Middle School Girls Encouraged to Explore Science and ‘Be Yourself’ at AAUW Tween Tech

For Immediate Release; photos on Flickr 

Contact:         Susan Allen
                        News and Media Relations
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Galloway, N.J. – A group of Tween Tech participants passed around a computer’s motherboard, closely examining the maze of circuits, as Alexis Franklin, a freshman Computer Science and Information Systems major, explained how to build a computer.

The motherboard acts as the “central brain of the computer,” said Franklin, of Gibbstown, N.J.

“Information Technology is a big field and you are getting a head start,” because “we are going to go inside a computer,” said Franklin.

The students watched the deconstruction of an old computer as each component from the tower and the fan that prevents overheating to the power supply and motherboard were taken out.

After seeing the process, one participant said that she hopes to build her own computer one day.

More than 200 girls from 21 middle schools throughout southern New Jersey spent today at Stockton University taking Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) workshops from Stockton faculty, staff and students, and researchers at the Federal Aviation Administration William J. Hughes Technical Center and technology and science firms.

                                                                     'You Never Have a Failure When You Experiment'

Lori Vermeulen, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs at Stockton, welcomed the middle school students, offered them encouragement and shared her own science journey. She was an experimental scientist in the field of chemistry prior to entering higher education, and her interest in science began when she was their age. However, it was a different time and perceptions of women in science were different. Regardless of the unequal support for women, she persevered to reach her goals.

Science taught her that “you never have a failure when you experiment. You only have things that you learned.”                                                

In one of her early positions as a research scientist, she was one of only four women out of 72 scientists. “If you are in a discipline that is dominated by one gender or ethnic group, and you are bringing diversity, you’re bringing a different way of looking at and thinking about a problem,” she said.

In sharing encouragement, she said, “Your path can take you many different ways. The key is to be yourself, match your strengths to things that you care passionately about and you will have fantastic results. You bring unique perspectives to the world that no one else can.” 

Mary Gracida, an eighth grader at Texas Avenue School, loves science because “you can find new discoveries.”

“Technology is helping us so much. We can create tools to save lives,” she explained.

She referred to her phone as an example, noting that someone in danger can receive help with just the push of a button. Her goal is to become a marine scientist to explore the deep sea in search of sharks and new sea life, or to become a lawyer.

Ariel Caro, a seventh grader at Middle Township Middle School from Cape May Court House, is an aspiring archaeologist. She hopes to go back in time to study human history by examining tombs. She attended a virtual reality session, which she found to be “very realistic and fun to do.”

Virtual reality (VR) immerses an individual in a computer simulation that mimics a real-life environment or scenario. David Somers, a senior Computer Science and Information Systems major from Little Egg Harbor, built a VR system on campus using commercial hardware where participants wear a head-mounted display to enter a computer-simulated activity uninterrupted by their surroundings. 

"The middle schoolers who visited Stockton had a lot of fun trying out virtual reality. Giving them a first-hand experience with this cutting-edge technology really sparked their interest in the field, and I'm glad to have been able to provide that opportunity," said Somers. 

                                                                                             Engineering a Better Bag

In a session led by Christina Young, Holly Cyrus and Joe Burns, of the FAA’s William J. Hughes Center, and Theresa Basquez, of Veracity Engineering, participants drew mock-ups of bags with handles for carrying candy. To test the strength of their designs, they used a weigh station.

“Engineering is about finding easier ways to do things,” explained Young. She explained that Margaret Knight, known as the mother of the grocery bag, designed a machine part to automatically fold and glue paper to make a flat-bottomed bag. Using limited resources, including glue, tape, plastic bags and scissors, participants engineered their own inventions.    

In a session called “Go Ooh for Oobleck” students concocted a substance with properties of both liquids and solids. Two parts cornstarch mixed with one part water results in a oobleck, a gooey substance that hardens when it’s squeezed. Melissa Krupp, a teacher at Southern Regional High School and a Stockton graduate and adjunct instructor, made the oobleck jump up and down by placing it over a sound speaker. The goo danced to the beat of the music as the sound waves moved through the substance.

"AAUW’s mission is to empower and advocate for the success of every young girl and woman.  Just 12 percent of engineers are women, and the number of women in computing has fallen from 35 percent in 1990 to just 26 percent today according to AAUW research.  Atlantic County AAUW proudly supports the STEM programs at Stockton University and greatly appreciates their dedication to these STEM events," said Linda Harmon, AAUW Atlantic County Branch co-president.

For more information about Stockton University, visit Stockton.edu.