The Saratoga STEM Academy overflowed with girl power.

During the STEM for Girls/ STEM para chicas event earlier this month, the emphasis was getting girls interested in engineering careers by participating in a variety of activities presented by women in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics careers.

The event, now in its sixth year, hosted around 100 fourth to eighth-grade girls in the Waukesha School District, including many from the Waukesha STEM Academy.

This year the STEM for Girls event hosted more than 25 presenters and many local businesses and STEM companies, including Kohl's, the Wisconsin Humane Society, GE Healthcare and Rockwell Automation, among others.

'The event not only looks to bring in women who are role models, but to show girls that it can be fun and interactive,' said Genny Lambert, the event coordinator. 'We want to broaden their horizons.'

Lambert started the event after repeatedly hearing guest speakers in the STEM field express the need for more women in their line of work.

Women make up 58 percent of the overall workforce nationwide, but are much less represented in particular science and engineering occupations such as environmental and geoscience (28.9 percent) or electrical and electronic engineers (8.8 percent), according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Girls in STEM event encourages young girls to close that gap and show that there is a need for them in STEM fields.

Career exploration

The Saratoga Campus' gymnasium was transformed June 2 into a career fair, in which girls could explore and talk to different professionals working in STEM fields, as well as complete hands-on challenges that utilized skills important in STEM.

At the GE Healthcare booth, the girls had to work in a group to create the tallest balloon tower they could make in 15 minutes. They could only use 50 balloons and a roll of tape.

'This really focuses on teamwork throughout STEM, something GE really encourages,' said Megan Wimmer of GE Healthcare. 'Also it's how do your prototype versus plan, plan, plan.'

The girls were given restrictions so that instead of planning they would jump right in, thinking about the structure while collaborating.

One team of girls moved quickly, building a structure about as tall as they were after about 10 minutes. They were given more balloons and more tape from 'a generous donor' to continue. The girls debated how they would build up while giving their structure more support.

'They're killing it,' Wimmer said, 'I guarantee if you gave this to some of our engineers, they would still be in the planning phase.'

And while some excelled at tower building, others were more interested in the district's CORE FIRST Robotics team. The three high-schoolers brought in their robot and talked to the girls about the controls and programming, and a few of the younger girls played catch with the robot, which was controlled by one of their peers.

The interactive career stations were popular with many students because of the diversity they presented and the hands-on aspect.

'My favorite was seeing a ton of options that are in the world and getting to try them,' Savannah Button said.

Corrin Harrington agreed, saying: 'You got to try out and see actual jobs rather than reading about them.'

Outside influences

Not only did the event include women who are already established in a STEM field, but STEM Academy alumni who volunteered at the event.

A few of the Waukesha high school students held their own classroom lessons, including one on nanomedical technology and another making homemade bath bombs.

Megan Gallamore, a freshman at Waukesha South High School, was one of the alumni volunteers running the bath bomb experiment. She explained to the girls that she and the some of the other alumni volunteers made bath bombs, sugar scrubs and other homemade beauty products as part of their eighth-grade project at the STEM Academy.

More than half (57 percent) of all girls say that girls don't typically consider a career in STEM, according to the Girl Scout Research Institute, but sometimes it means broadening girls' definition of what STEM is and how they can use it confidently, which the THRIVE! Human Capital Development group talked about during their presentation on confidence.

Harrington, an eighth-grader, likes STEM but wants to pursue a career in the arts.

'I definitely want to use (STEM) as an application with art. There are a lot of ways to use art as a career, like digital design,' Harrington said.

And while nationwide, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology, there has been a 79 percent decline in the number of first year undergraduate women interested in a computer science major between 2000 and 2011, events like the Waukesha STEM Academy's STEM for Girls are working to change that.

'This is my second year here because I'm really into STEM,' Butto said. 'Originally I wanted to be a doctor, but now I've changed my mind.'

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