April 18, 2018

Giving Girls the Power and Confidence to Pursue STEM

What happens when four female Northern Illinois University engineering majors take on an electrical project with 27 BPS101 fourth-grade females?


BPS101 Enrichment Coach Julie Allen and RMS Assistant Principal Nicole Kitzmiller invited the NIU engineers and members of the Society of Women EngineersAmy Kofoed, Maria Barlas, Sandhya Chapagain, and Laura Vogl—to AGS to participate in one of 10 sessions from BPS101’s S(cience) H(erstory) E(ngineering) course.

The course, funded by the Batavia Foundation for Educational Excellence’s District Innovation Grant, is designed to help young girls see how other women in the world are shaping the future through engineering. Through hands-on activities, BPS101 students are learning about the different fields of engineering, famous female engineers, the design process, and what it takes to be an engineer.

For their hands-on activity, the NIU engineers and BPS101 students were tasked with “hacking” a musical greeting card to learn about electricity and the path or circuit in which it travels. They worked together to cut out the “sound module” in their greeting cards to create a whole new use for it, which got them thinking about the design process. And, boy, did they get creative!

“My brother is always snooping in my room, so I’m attaching mine [sound module] to a box. When he opens the box, I’ll know it!” said one student.

Another student put her “barking dog” sound module inside an envelope. Open the envelope and you let the dog out. 🙂

A third student tied a string to her sound module to create a booby-trap to catch her pesky little brothers sneaking into her room.

What was really neat to watch was the interaction between the engineers and the fourth-graders. At one point, electrical and biomedical engineering student Laura Vogl, gave all of the students a mini lesson in electronics by explaining what exactly makes the sound module work in a greeting card. 

“Whenever you take something apart, that’s fun,” said fourth-grade Hoover-Wood student Mia LaSalle about the electrical project.

The room was seriously buzzing with curiosity, collaboration, and creativity. At the end of the session, two students publicly thanked the NIU students for coming.

“You were AWESOME!” exclaimed Claire Smith, Grace McWayne fourth-grader.

In the next session of this course, two engineers from Fermilab taught BPS101 students about the branch of physics that focuses on the change in properties of materials when they are exposed to very cold temperatures—cryogenics.

The engineers, Kathrine Cipriano, a mechanical engineer, and Andrew Dalesandro, a cryogenic and mechanical engineer, conducted several experiments with liquid nitrogen, like turning a banana into a hammer and a pliable rubber gasket into a nail. The session also included a lesson in electromagnets. Here’s a clip:

After this experiment, Miss Cipriano answered questions from the audience. Most students wanted to know how she got interested in engineering. She said, “I loved cars growing up and by the time I was a junior in high school, I decided that mechanical engineering would be a good field of study.”

Miss Cipriano, who grew up in Glen Ellyn, Ill., got her engineering degree at Michigan Technological University and landed a job at Fermilab after graduation. While she’s not currently building cars, she is building large cryostats and piping systems for neutrino experiments.

Before this school year ends, Mrs. Allen and Mrs. Kitzmiller have also planned a visit by female engineers who work at Trotter and Associates Inc. in St. Charles, Ill.

Who knew STEM could be so fun?!