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Hundreds of girls go 'geek' on the WPI campus


GIG_photo1

WORCESTER - Part of Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s campus was taken over Saturday by girls interested in science who examined brains in jars, interacted with robots, held part of the core of an asteroid in their hands and made bracelets to match their own DNA.

More than 430 Girl Scouts in Grades 4-8 from Central and Western Massachusetts converged on the WPI campus to celebrate science, technology, engineering and mathematics at the Geek Is Glam (GIG) STEM Expo. WPI has hosted the event every year since its inception four years ago and it grows in popularity each year, according to its organizers.

“WPI is an amazing collaborator, and it’s a beautiful campus for the girls to walk on,” Dana K. Carnegie, community relations manager for the Girl Scouts of Central & Western Massachusetts, said. “They come on campus wide-eyed and ready and they’re not really sure what’s about to happen and it’s so fantastic for us to see because we know they’re minds are going to be exposed to the best scientific and engineering minds in the community.”

The day-long interactive event is geared towards girls in Grades 4 through 8, event coordinator Tammy J. Breen said, because it is around the time when girls go into middle school that their interest in science often begins to drop off.

More than 80 organizers and nearly 200 volunteers help run the event, she said. Many of them and the girls make plans to come back the following year before the day is through, she said. Parents drop the girls off and 35 staff volunteers from the Girl Scouts are there to help if needed as the girls tour the campus and immerse themselves in everything STEM, the women explained.

“We never know which one of them in that moment is going to decide she is going to be an engineer,” Ms. Carnegie added. “We know they are going to have an inspiring day and they’re going to learn and we need more girls and women in the STEM fields. Our goal is to get girls on a college campus so they can envision themselves here.”

Girls spent the day in interactive workshops, demonstrations, hands-on exhibits and educational career panels offered by presenters including the Aldrich Astronomical Society, The Giant Game Company, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, iRobot, New England Air Museum, New England Aquarium and Boston Society of Civil Engineers.

Alanna C. Alston, 15, from Springfield is on the Girl Scout Leadership Board and helped out at an interactive exhibit setup by students in WPI’s biology and biotechnology department.

The girls were making color-coded bracelets to match their DNA, Alanna explained, based on genetic traits such as the ability to roll their tongue.

“Everyone is saying they are having a lot of fun,” Alanna said. “I already asked about helping out next year.”

Briana M. Rodriguez, 21, a WPI senior from Douglas majoring in biomedical engineering, volunteered at the DNA exhibit.

“I think STEM is such an important field for girls to get into,” Ms. Rodriguez said. “We need to get rid of the stigma that only guys can do engineering, science and math and expose girls while they are young.”

Benjamin C. Cline, from Technatopia in Worcester - a nonprofit “maker space” that offers tools and technology to the public for projects - was helping at the organization’s robotic exhibit.

Often kids are taught the fundamentals of coding and robotics, but don’t get the chance to do anything hands-on, he said. “They’re getting the chance to do that here.”

Katie E. Hebert, 21, a Westfield State University senior from Leominster majoring in biology, was running the “brain zoo” where girls had to match real brains with the animals they belonged to.

“I think this is really cool and it is good that it gets the girls into science,” Ms. Hebert said. “In middle school, I started to get away from science, but in high school I had some really good teachers who got me interested, again. Now, I want to be a high school biology teacher.”

The University of Massachusetts Medical School sponsored the event.