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University invites young women to STEM program, share stories


Instructor shows junior high school students reptiles.

The first step for the “Women in STEM” program was to lay down the “roots.”

The annual event, which celebrated its 30th anniversary this past Friday, recognized those roots as encouraging young girls from grades six through eight to become excited, brave and vocal about enjoying science.

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Jodi Haney, science education professor at the University and the program’s keynote speaker, recalled a story from when she was at that age.

Haney said she was lucky enough to have an inventive father and a mother who loved nature. Still, after taking a career placement test that was meant to help young students find career interests, she said she was surprised to see “engineer” as her result back then.

Haney remembered thinking at the time, “Huh, that’s interesting. Why would they think I would be good at being a guy who wears overalls and sits at the back of the train…”

Despite the fact that her dad was engineer, at that age, that’s all she thought an engineer was.

Some of Haney’s other relatives ushered her into the general direction of education, them being teachers as well, she said.

And while many years have passed since then, she noticed how she was sort of pigeon-holed in a direction away from engineering and that some of those same barriers for women are still there.

She did eventually find a career “teaching teachers to teach science,” which she considers a major part of her identity, she said.

The Women in STEM program was designed to help students get excited about STEM.

It was organized and coordinated by the Northwest Ohio Center for Excellence in STEM Education [NWO], which is a partnership between a number of area colleges, universities and K-12 schools with the shared goal of advancing STEM education.

University President Mary Ellen Mazey shared a story similar to Haney’s.

Masey said it seemed like just yesterday that she was where the young students were.

“Young women, I can tell you there isn’t anything more exciting than science,” Mazey said.

Mazey has a Ph.D. in urban geography, but said she also has a master’s degree in environmental geology.

She remembered testing water during her coursework and compared it to today. Mazey noted how she had just recently been in a meeting where they discussed a smart phone app being developed on-campus for testing water, which she mentioned could have been very useful with the recent water hazards across the area.

Mazey said that’s what makes science so exciting, finding new and innovative solutions for real-world issues.

“Think about it today, think about it tomorrow and think about it for your future,” Mazey said. “But most of all, have fun.”

Both Haney and Mazey agreed the most important thing was that these young women enjoyed the day learning about science.

That, too, was what the Women in STEM program on Friday was about, teaching these girls at such an impressionable age not only that science can be lots of fun, but it’s the way it should be, they said.

Among all of the students in attendance, smiles were in abundance and resounding, enthusiastic laughter rang out not long after activities began.

The joy these girls were having could be seen unequivocally, even during one simple experiment, for example, designed to teach Isaac Newton’s three laws of motion.

“It motivates me as a professor to think about what I do with my students,” Haney said. “I like the saying, ‘Because good is not good enough.’ We may have good teaching, but we want great teaching and great experiences. That’s how we innovate our way into the future.”

The event including many other interactive hands-on learning experiences from a wide range of scientific fields, from animals to rockets and everywhere in-between.

Haney said these “seeds” of teaching science are vital to the industry and keeping youth interested. She stressed hands-on education, material that’s relevant, offering students choice and letting them be creative.

It has to be fun for students to care, she said, so the key is for science teachers to foster a “joyful learning experience.”

In addition to the fun aspects of the event, it was still relevant to real-world issues and opportunities.

Joetta Kynard, office manager for NWO and coordinator of the Women in STEM program, said attendees got the chance to explore what it’s like in various careers from all four STEM fields, science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“STEM is everywhere: at school, on the playground, at home and at work,” Kynard said. “Whether it’s found in friction on a slide, measuring the spoke of a ladder, or examining the swing of a pendulum, STEM is everywhere.”

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