Diamonds in the rough: Fair at WWU introduces girls to careers in STEM fields

By Maddy Tanis

Careers in the sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics are fields that are traditionally dominated by males, but the GEMS (Girls in Engineering, Math, and Science) fair this past Saturday, May 30, aimed to change that. The fair, held at Western Washington University, aimed to introduce young girls to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields and encourage them to pursue futures in these industries.
WWU Sustainability, Women in Energy Network, and WWU Women in Physics were among numerous clubs that had displays at the fair.

Andrea Antrim, 23, a student at Western, said “I’m finishing up my master’s degree in education at Western, and I see girls think ‘I can’t do that.’”

Antrim explained how STEM careers can seem intimidating to young girls, but having events like the GEMS fair can be very beneficial to get them excited about something when they are young.
Former NASA astronaut Wendy Lawrence, 55, was among a number of speakers and presentations at the event, which filled three floors of Western’s west academic building.
Lawrence spoke about the science and engineering that is done on the space station, and how these studies are applied to being an astronaut.

“We’re studying how fluids act in space in the absence of gravity,” said Lawrence. “We [even] figured out how to drink coffee from a cup!”

They used to have to have a cup of coffee out of a bag, she added, and the taste just was not the same.
“We can use capillary flow to get it to the astronaut’s mouth so they can have a real cup of coffee,” she said.
Various clubs at Western and women in STEM careers in the local community presented as well.

“As a person that works at Western, it’s an area that needs a lot more interest, and a lot of people are excited about it,” said Juliet Holzknecht, 27, who works in the summer programs department at WWU. “Having an event that inspires youth is a great thing.”

In addition to the lectures and demonstrations, displays were set up throughout the fair.

Shannon Point Marine Center (SPMC), a research center based out of Anacortes, was at the GEMS fair to teach youth about what they work on.

The center supplements Western’s marine sciences program. Their research includes things like microscopic plankton and biochemical studies of giant kelp.

Measurements of water quality on a set basis, temperature of water, water salinity, dissolved oxygen, pH of the water, and nutrient concentrations are the kinds of data that the center collects regularly in order to conduct their research projects.

This research has resulted in publications in scientific peer-reviewed journals, and the girls attending the fair experienced a sample of the same type of work when stopping by the SPMC station.
Dana Eckert, who studies environmental science at Western, explained how they were running their station. There was a slide show displaying women who work at the center and facts about them.

The children told volunteers about what they had learned, then moved on to an interactive station which was a “representation of taking deep sea samples, and then look at it through a microscope,” explained Eckert.

There were white boards placed sporadically throughout the fair, with different phrases written on them such as “My prediction about Bellingham in 2115 is…”, “I wonder…”, and “when I grow up, I want to be….” Children wrote their answers when walking by.

A silent auction also took place at the event. The proceeds of this went to the youth programs scholarship fund, which will be awarded to young girls hoping to attend Odyssey of Science and Arts, a summer camp held at Western.

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