Girls shown a possible future in technology, sciences

Spring-Ford Middle School student Cora Williams, left, and Perkiomen Valley Middle School East student Kylie Monaco work together to design a “roller coaster” during the Girls Exploring Tomorrow’s Technology event.
Speaker Christina Sollecito helps student Rebecca Cohen, a sixth-grader at Great Valley Middle School, write computer code for a program.

PHOENIXVILLE — Speakers at the Girls Exploring Tomorrow’s Technology event Saturday encouraged female students to let their passion turn into determination for a career in science or STEM.

Girls were exposed to STEM careers that consist of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The program began in Chester County in 2001 as an initiative of the Innovative Technology Action Group of the Chester County Economic Development Council. The program was created to inform female students in grades sixth through 12th about STEM-related industries.

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During the course of the all-day event, there were 30 hands-on workshops and several speakers who shared their success stories of a STEM career.

Among the sessions, students had an opportunity to learn the basic principles of roller coaster engineering by building their designs using foam tubes. The students listened to the advice by presenter Kristin Dormuth, who has a degree in mechanical engineering and now works in computer programming.

Kylie Monaco, a sixth-grade student at Perkiomen Valley Middle School East, said it was a fun challenge to design two separate coasters and have two marbles travel on the coasters that she and her partner created.

“The main challenge is getting the marble to go the way we want it go. It’s going the way it wants to go,” Monaco said. “We’re trying to correct the angles so it can go the proper way.”

She worked with Cora Williams, an eighth-grade student at Spring-Ford Middle School. Williams said it was “really cool” to figure out how to make the coaster work after a previous attempt failed.

“We have to change our plans and find new ideas,” Williams said. “It feels good, like we accomplished something. I want to keep going.”

Speaker Brienna Henwood said that the students’ experiences will inspire them “to do what our true passion is in life.” She is the director of Space and Training and Research and she works in public relations for the NASTAR center. She encouraged students to obtain a career by following their passions.

“Everything is possible. Everything. So all you have to do is figure out what you like doing more than other (activities),” Henwood said. “Start gravitating to those things that really inspire you, motivate you and make you passionate.”

Henwood shared her advice to have confidence and passion in everything you do. She advised the students to surround themselves with people they admire that can help inspire them.

She encouraged students to figure out what barriers are stopping them and eliminate those fears. She said one challenge she faces is that her workforce is dominantly male. She said she wants people to remove that thought from their minds and work to succeed.

Elizabeth Tran, a program manager for the National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity, told stories to parents of the students about a lack of women holding STEM jobs. She explained that it may seem normal to most people, but she told the parents that they can help change this by encouraging their students to consider and pursue such careers.

“It’s our job as parents to make that normalcy become an anomaly and the way that we can do that is to continue to encourage our daughters to enter into those STEM fields,” Tran said.

She said that parents can encourage their daughters to have a STEM career to create diversity and break the perception that woman cannot have such a career.

“There’s no written rule in our society that says that girls can’t participate in STEM, but general society treats it as a rule because it’s so customary to not see women serve in that capacity,” Tran said.

Speaker Christina Sollecito said she got interested in the technology industry because of two of her male family members. She works for Vanguard, where she works in information technology roles. She taught students how to write a computer code during her session.

She explained code writing to the students by relating it to social media and everyday experiences. She explained how “if” statements relate to code writing by giving examples of: if it is raining, then I will wear a raincoat outside. The session concluded with students writing a series of codes on the computer.

Sollecito admitted to a group of sixth-grade students that she earned poor grades in school. She told the students that if they work hard, they will succeed just as she did. She said determination contributed to her success.

Follow Ginger Rae Dunbar on Twitter at @GingerDunbar.

Information from the Daily Local News, www.dailylocal.com