For the third year, WPI will host the Girls Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts-sponsored event,Geek Is Glam, for girls in grades four through eight who are coming from many Massachusetts regions and several other New England states.
“This is a great opportunity for them to interact with role models and mentors and to expose them to STEM,” says Sue Sontgerath ’88, associate director of admissions and the coordinator of pre-college programs at WPI. “It’s a pretty busy day,” she says.
“This is a great opportunity for them to interact with role models and mentors and to expose them to STEM.” – Sue Sontgerath
For the girls, just being on a college campus helps lay the foundation for getting them on a STEM path. They’ll be welcomed in the rec center with an introduction by this year’s Miss Massachusetts, Meagan Fuller. Former NASA astronaut and Naval officer Heidemarie Martha Stefanyshyn-Piper will also be on hand to tell the girls about her journey from MIT student to completing five space walks and earning numerous accolades along the way.
The girls will choose from 46 workshops, including topics like “Exploring Chemistry with Candy and Polymers,” “Learn to Code with Jetpack Jumper,” “Flying Drones,” and “Will Robots Take Over the World?” that are run by women in industry, faculty (Ken Stafford, WPI’s associate director of robotics engineering, will run one workshop), and volunteers. More than two dozen WPI undergrads will act as group leaders and role models throughout the day and will talk to the girls about their own experiences with STEM. A group of biomedical engineering graduate students will also lead a workshop and activity.
After the greeting, the girls will participate in five workshops over the course of the day—and their favorite activity, lunch in Morgan Hall.
“The girls do love the lunch in the dining hall and the ice cream machine,” says Tammy Breen, program partnership assistant for the Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts. “But we like exposing these 460 girls to STEM opportunities and the careers in those fields. We hope they’ll start to break down the stereotypes and see that girls can enter the fields and that these careers are exciting.”
Sontgerath agrees. “We know from the research that the things that make STEM attractive to women are different from the things that make it attractive to men,” says Sontgerath. “Women want to explore a profession where they will make a difference.” Using the fun themes of the workshops and the real-life role models who have made a living with STEM careers, the girls will see directly how science and engineering fields offer professions where they can make a big difference in someone’s life.
“We make it relevant,” says Sontgerath. “These are the ways we can hook their interest and get them excited.” The program often generates great interest from the girls who might then continue to have fun and get exposure to STEM with summer camps and weekend workshops.
The girls might rave about lunch and the independent feeling walking around campus gives them, but Sontgerath knows the entire experience makes a lasting impact. “Any time they have that opportunity to be on campus and feel comfortable on campus, it’s a great growth experience for them,” she says. “They get all that exposure and are able to imagine themselves in that experience.”