Association for Women in Science to host STEM workshops for middle schoolers at GVSU

By Kyle Doyle | 2/12/17 9:26pm

GVL / Kevin Sielaff - Volunteers help repair and assemble plane parts next to the launch site. Students of STEPS (Science, Technology, and Engineering Day Camps) fly planes that they have built during camp at Warped Wings Fly Field in Allendale on Thursday, June 23, 2016.
by Kevin Sielaff and Kevin Sielaff / The Lanthorn

What do you want to be when you grow up? Children are asked this simple question from the moment they can speak in complete, intelligible sentences. A firefighter, a construction worker, a princess, a dinosaur are all popular responses. Kids let their imaginations wander as they dream of what they can be, even if it is not feasible.

Few kids right off the bat want to be something like an astrophysicist who deals with quantum subatomic theory at the molecular level or even a mechanical engineer. These decisions take time and hands-on interaction.

At Grand Valley State University, these seeds of interest can be planted through hands-on activities and detailed information.

The second annual “Fall in Love with STEM” event, hosted by the West Michigan chapter of the Association for Women in Science (AWIS-WM), will take place on the Allendale and Pew campuses Saturday, Feb. 18, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. The purpose of the program is to give middle school students the opportunity to try out different activities related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

“We have a variety of workshops,” said Karen Gipson, a professor of physics at GVSU and the coordinator of the AWIS-WM event. “The faculty are planning the event, and the Grand Valley students are the ones who are actually running the event and working with the middle school kids.”

The STEM sessions will be taking place on both the Allendale and Pew campuses and will include a variety of activities, from constructing engineering towers out of spaghetti and marshmallows and seeing whose is the tallest and most structurally sound to creating colors out of different chemicals to looking at a mannequin to learn more about the process of breathing.

All of these activities and more will be on the docket for the participants, who are right at the age when they are starting to think about what careers they might pursue in the future.

Last year, Gipson estimated there were about 100 kids attending events between the two campuses, and she thinks that number will grow this year.

“All the students who came really loved it, and I think this year is going to be even better,” Gipson said. “We’ve got more faculty involved from different departments, we’ve got more Grand Valley students involved from different departments and we’ve also done a better job advertising.”

The reason the event is exclusive to middle schoolers is because it is around this time that some kids, specifically girls, begin to lose interest in science or think science is “not cool,” Gipson said. She hopes this event will strike a chord with the participants and show them the sciences are, in fact, cool.

Along with the help of the AWIS-WM, Gipson hopes to show middle school girls that science isn’t just for boys but for everyone.

“We don’t expect every student who attends to major in science or anything,” Gipson said. “We just want to help them not be afraid of science and help them know that science is something fun.”

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