School club aims to turn girls toward careers in engineering

By Laura Buck
The Calvert Recorder
Thursday, November 12, 2009

Last week, Karin Hill, the director of education and public programs for the National Museum of the United States Navy in the District, visited Calvert Middle School in Prince Frederick.

Her mission: to teach the members of the school's all-girls engineering club -- which is the first of its kind in a Calvert County school -- how to make a barometer out of a soup can, a balloon, a sewing needle and a straw.

"I thought we'd put together an engineering project that might save your lives one day," said Hill, who explained to the girls that if they were to get lost while camping, the barometer's response to pressure would give them a sense of the weather headed their way.

The program was just one of several events the club has presented this school year.

The club was launched as part of a school system initiative to get students interested in careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

"Because engineering has been a male-dominated career path . . . this club was intended to introduce women to the idea of engineering," said Calvert Middle math teacher Karin Stewart, the club's faculty representative. "A lot of times they envision an engineer as an older man who builds bridges."

The county's initiative is in turn part of a national initiative launched by the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education Coalition, which includes representatives from government, businesses and higher education, said Calvert County Public Schools STEM coordinator Joann Roberts.

"It is to raise our ability to compete in the global economy by moving students toward STEM career pathways . . . there is a huge deficit in those careers," Roberts said.

If the club, which is for girls in grades 6 through 8, is successful, the county will start a similar club at Southern Middle School in Lusby next year, Stewart said.

In addition to Stewart, engineer Karen Lane of the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Lexington Park serves as a liaison between the club and the air station, Stewart said.

The club, which meets weekly, was intended for middle school students because "that's the time when girls start to think about careers," Lane said.

She and Stewart try to have female engineers as weekly guests to show the girls "that they have families and that engineering can be a great career for a woman," she added.

Lane said she views the club as a test to see what type of reaction it would get from students. So far the club, which has about 30 members, has been a success, she said.

Eighth-grader Hannah Aris of Port Republic said she decided to join the club after participating in Calvert Middle School's Lego League, which is also part of the STEM initiative.

"All the experiments are fun, but last week we did something with lasers and music, and that was really fun," said Hannah, 13.

Olivia Deibler of Prince Frederick, a sixth-grader at Calvert Middle School, said she always viewed engineers as people who "invented things."

"I really like after-school clubs, and I'm really good at math, and I thought it would be fun," Olivia, 11, said.

The club has yet to let her down, she said.

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