Hundreds attend Girls in STEM event at TEC-SMART

 

By Andrea Currie

News Editor

On the morning of Saturday, Mar. 28, about 200 girls in grades 4 through 8 attended the third annual Girls in STEM event at Hudson Valley’s TEC-SMART campus. Participants and their parents flocked to the atrium for registration. At 9:30 a.m., they filled the auditorium for the welcome speech and keynote address. Dozens of people had to stand at the rear of the room, since there were not enough seats for everyone present.

Mary Burke, Manager of Special Projects at the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), which co-sponsored the event, welcomed participants and their families, saying that the event was about encouraging girls to be strong and smart. She then introduced the keynote speaker, Gili Rusak.

Rusak, a senior at Shaker High School in Latham, developed an app called Codester, which uses logic puzzles to teach elementary-school students how to code. “I spent the entire summer after tenth grade designing, developing, and making Codester, my educational app. Not to say it was easy. … No, at times it was very challenging. I spent hours on one little bug. A bug is a problem in the code that makes it not work,” said Rusak, explaining the term for her audience.

She explained that she became interested in coding when she heard about an eight-year-old who developed an app. Not having any coding experience, she turned to Google and taught herself to code.

“And I want you to listen very carefully to this. You guys can build your own apps. If you bring the passion, and the enthusiasm, you guys can learn whatever it is you want to learn, by yourselves. The people and the resources will follow. But you guys have to bring the passion and the enthusiasm. ’Cause we are awesome, and we can make wonderful things,” said Rusak.

“We are the thinkers of today. Let’s go out there and create something awesome!” she concluded, to applause.

Volunteers at the event then led participants to their first activities. The students had each selected three of eight 45-minute workshops to attend: “Come Code with Codester,” sponsored by Girls Inc. and led by Rusak; “The Energy of Sunshine,” sponsored by Troy-based Century Solar Supply; “Exploring with Circuits,” sponsored by the Children’s Museum of Science and Technology in Troy; “Fun With PBS,” sponsored by WMHT; “It’s a Small, Small Nanoworld,” sponsored by miSci in Schenectady; “Kid Wind,” sponsored by General Electric, Women Of Wind Energy, and the Society of Women Engineers; “The Mystery of Color, Light, Heat, and Energy,” sponsored by the Clean Technologies & Sustainable Industries Early College High School program at TEC-SMART; and “Toothpick Tower,” sponsored by SD Atelier Architecture LLC, based in Saratoga Springs.

“It’s a Small, Small Nanoworld” was led by Beth Hoffman, an Education Specialist at miSci. Hoffman set up five stations with activities ranging from nanofabrics to hydrogels. The nanofabrics station provided the girls with water and samples of nanofabric and broccoli florets. Water droplets put on the broccoli mimicked the action of water on the nanofabric, which, Hoffman said, has bumps that are too large for water molecules to pass through.

Many girls wanted to take home their hydrogel experiment, which was the result of adding water to a white powder made of sodium polyacrylate. Sodium polyacrylate is a polymer, or long-chain molecule, that can absorb up to 1,000 times its weight in water and is used in baby diapers, plantings, and as artificial snow, since it puffs up and sparkles like real snow.

Two girls said they had done an experiment to test the absorbency of baby diapers. “That’s why it felt familiar!” exclaimed one, when she learned what the chemical was used for.

Several girls wondered what it would be like to fill an entire swimming pool with sodium polyacrylate powder. “Then you could walk on water!” joked an event volunteer, a Hudson Valley engineering science student.

At the end of the activity, Hoffman reviewed each station and asked the girls to share what they had learned. As they left, participants were offered a discount coupon to miSci and a Buckyball, a model of 60 interconnected carbon atoms that looks like a soccer ball.

At the “Mystery of Color, Light, Heat, and Energy” workshop, students dyed bandannas, and some students took home their toothpick-and-marshmallow constructions from the “Toothpick Tower” workshop.

After their last workshops ended at 12:15 p.m., participants and their parents were asked to complete evaluation forms for the event. Burke, the NYSERDA Manager of Special Projects, said that data and feedback from the forms would be aggregated and sent to participating organizations.

 

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