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STEM savvy

A group of girls lines up Tuesday to test out the marshmallow launcher they designed at Tech Savvy on the University of Jamestown campus. John M. Steiner / The Sun

Cardboard tubes, rubber bands and marshmallows flew through a University of Jamestown classroom on Tuesday afternoon, as about 15 middle-school girls tested out their marshmallow shooter designs.

With no blueprint, using only scissors and hole punches as tools, the girls worked in groups to figure out the best design to shoot marshmallows down the hall of the Unruh and Sheldon Center.

The "Design and Shoot" was one of 19 hands-on workshops that middle-school girls from Stutsman County schools participated in during the Tech Savvy event on Tuesday, said Erica Althoff, event co-chair. She said about 330 middle-school girls participated in the event.

Tech Savvy is a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) career conference to attract girls in sixth through eighth grades to these fields. The event was held by the AAUW Jamestown Branch at the University of Jamestown.

The workshops were led by STEM professionals from Jamestown, Grand Forks, Fargo and Bismarck, Althoff said. The girls choose which workshops they want to go to when they register for the event, which helps give them more choices to do something they are interested in, she said.

"You can tell the exposure of this day shows them they can do whatever they want," Althoff said. "It's very empowering."

Civil engineers Alison Hanslip, Melissa Kuznia and Yaping Chi of West Fargo company Moore Engineering Inc. ran the marshmallow shooter workshop and told girls about their jobs as engineers.

Chi said she and other women change the workshop from year to year to give the girls something different each time. This year has been fun, and the girls had some pretty good designs, she said. Tech Savvy is a good event, and gives the girls ideas they didn't know before, Chi said.

Hanslip said it is very cool to see the girls taking part in the workshops and is something she didn't have the opportunity to do as a child.

The three engineers told the girls in the workshop about civil engineering and why each of them chose a career in the field. Hanslip explained the engineering design process - identify the problem, brainstorm, design, build, test, redesign and share solutions.

After designing their shooters, the girls went into the hall to try to beat the 19 1/2-foot record shot from earlier. A tape measure lining one wall determined a new winner, whose shot reached 20 feet.

Jamestown Middle School eighth-grader Sadie Duven said her favorite workshops were the "Design and Shoot" and "The Great and Powerful Oz," where the girls learned about how mannequins that breathe and have a heartbeat are used to train doctors and nurses.

The event's goals are to expose young women to female role models in STEM fields, have hands-on fun, show how STEM jobs make a difference and are cool and teach girls a skill, said Joan Enderle, Tech Savvy committee member.

STEMtastic!, a similar event for middle-school boys, was also held Tuesday at Jamestown Middle School. The program was led by Jamie Wirth, executive director of the Great Plains STEM Education Center at Valley City State University. Enderle said the program was created to run in conjunction with Tech Savvy.

Tech Savvy also included a program for parents and interested adults to encourage and inform them about education and careers in STEM for their children.

The girls also heard from opening speaker Katherine Young, a graphic designer and marketing coordinator of The Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library, keynote speaker Kristi Jean, quality engineer for ComDel Innovation in Wahpeton, N.D., and "Savvy Skills" speaker Cathy Williams, instructional coach in Grand Forks Public Schools.

Althoff said the event gets a good response from presenters, who usually say they love to expose girls to their field. It's exciting to be able to bring in presenters from a distance to come share their experience, she said.

"Our stress to presenters (is) that it is a hands-on workshop, and that we want girls to participate," Althoff said.

Tatum Aabrekke, a Jamestown Middle School eighth-grader, said she learned new things from the event. She said she liked "The Great and Powerful Oz" and "Sky-High Structures" workshops, where girls worked in teams to design and build towers out of recycled materials.

"It's fun and cool," she said.

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