It is the summer of girl power for 36 middle school girls from the Waukesha (Horning Middle School and Waukesha STEM Academy), Shorewood and Milwaukee school districts who participated in the GE Girls program June 19 to 23.
On Tuesday, June 20, they tested combustibles by working in teams to use different fuels (vinegar, lemon juice) to test the feasibility of these fuels to power a “rocket.”
The activity was originally scheduled for outdoors, but due to the rain, the event was held indoors. Students used the same various fuels to determine which combinations create the largest balloon diameter.
Waukesha Stem Saratoga students, Ella Trevino, 12, and Olivia Borowski, 12, enjoyed learning about science, technology, engineering, and math.
"It is definitely about working and interacting with real-world situations," Borowski said.
Trevino explained earlier the students built an engine out of plastic materials.
"We kept preserving to do it despite our time being up. It was pretty cool, we thought we have never been able to do that before," Trevino said.
According to a GE Healthcare news release, the purpose of GE Girls is to inspire middle school girls to consider careers in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) through engaging and challenging hands-on experiences using STEM skills in collaboration with women role models currently working in related industries.
Genny Lambert, an educator with Waukesha STEM Academy, has been involved with GE Girls for many years. Lambert said the students are gaining skills which can be applied in any profession.
"They are learning collaboration, critical thinking and problem-solving. It is not only specific to STEM but realizing there are different careers they can go into," Lambert said.
Pam Washburn, GE general manager, sales enablement, explained this is the sixth year of GE Girls, which started in 2011.
"We bring the girls in to try and excite them about STEM and how it can help them as they continue their career through their education," Washburn said.
She added one aspect they may not have exposure to is combustion and making an engine.
"Girls think of science as chemistry and biology; they miss out on the engineering side. Today they are spending a lot of time on the engineering side," Washburn said.
Students are given the opportunity to look at pistons and understand the tolerances of machining that they may not have access to.
While women in STEM fields has grown over the years, work is still needed to bridge the gap between the amount of men and women in STEM jobs.
"Women only represent 25 percent of that workforce in the STEM field," Washburn said.
Washburn explained one GE's goals is to by 2020 have 50 percent of their technical jobs be filled by women. She said women represent 50 percent of the population and women are very good collaborators, innovators and work well in a team environment.
Washburn said a way to encourage more girls to be interested in STEM fields is by giving them opportunities such as the GE Girls program. She wants parents to engage in conversations about science and technology with their children at home.
A long time ago Washburn heard a story of a woman who said women don't go into the sciences.
"Yes they do. Women are very successful; share those stories and demonstrate it," Washburn said.