ECU opens doors to STEM majors, careers in annual event for girls

Nearly 100 eighth grade girls from 12 Pitt County middle schools attended the fourth annual STEM Girls conference Oct. 4 at East Carolina University to learn more about majors and careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“It is our hope that this one-day conference can build excitement, enthusiasm, and confidence in the young ladies who attend, “ said Dr. Evelyn Brown, professor of engineering and member of the STEM Girls Advisory Board. “We hope they choose to pursue STEM degrees and careers, but more importantly, we want them to know that they have options and they have role models willing to help them.” 

Pitt County middle schoolers attending ECU’s Stem Conference for girls examine flowers as part of the conference activities. From Bethel, Montasha Brown, Mackenzie Andrews and Tamiya Speller, left to right, learned how flower structure adaptations affect pollination.

STEM careers typically pay 30 percent more than non-STEM jobs.  However, only 25 percent of all STEM jobs are held by females.

The STEM Girls conference aims to engage girls in hands-on learning experiences. Attendees rotated through four activities where they studied material properties through can crushing, the supply chain management of Goldfish crackers and how the structure of flowers has adapted to attract and reward different pollinators. They also learned how to code and decode an encrypted message using mathematics.

ECU faculty and students volunteered their time to make the five-hour experience possible.

Junior Curren Blake, a mechanical engineering student, displayed the use of a rapid prototype printer, also known as a 3-D printer. The printer begins by reading a computer aided design drawing and then uses successive layers of material to build up a physical model from a series of cross sections. The layers are then joined together automatically to create the final three-dimensional product.

Blake made a bracelet in front of the girls using the printer, while explaining how she came to choose engineering as her college major. Casey Sokolovic, a junior at D.H. Conley High School, spoke to the girls about her involvement and work with the nonprofit, conservation-oriented Love a Sea Turtle Foundation.

Middle school teachers and counselors selected the STEM girls who attended. As one counselor noted, the girls have shown an interest in math or science, are self-motivated or have the potential to be inspired by the event.

The annual event was a collaborative effort between ECU’s College of Technology and Computer Science, the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Education, including the Center for STEM Education. The conference was sponsored by the Eddie and Jo Allison Smith Foundation and Pitt County Schools provided transportation.

-by Margaret Turner

STEM Girls conference attendees from Hope Middle School, left to right, included Lauren Lim, Erika Shinpaugh, Kamara Haywood, Abby Marcum and Anna Roberson.