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STEM is for Girls: Grant Funds Sci-Tech Girl Power After-School Program

Shane Mauldin|
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Coserv Community Relations Specialist Lauren Baccus talks to Bennett Girl Power participants about their project.

Coserv Community Relations Specialist Lauren Baccus talks to Bennett Girl Power participants about their project.

McKinney, Texas – They come in most days after school, these 20 or so Bennett Elementary 4th and 5th grade girls. On some days, they have other commitments like Girl Scouts or Bluebonnet Book Club, but they are eager to be here when they can.

It’s called Girl Power.

This week, they’re working on principles of engineering, and Sloane Pielli from the Sci-Tech Discovery Center begins to call out instructions after the girls deposit their things along the wall and gather at one of the tables in the center of the room.

The directions are brief. On the table before them is an assortment of miscellaneous objects—CDs, dowel rods, cardboard squares, rubber bands, plastic bottle caps—that the girls will use to design and build small, rubber band powered vehicles. The design is limited only to the materials that they have to work with and their own ingenuity.

Their goal is to create a vehicle that can travel at least five feet powered by the rubber band, and they waste no time getting started and sorting through the bric-a-brac, gluing things together and trying different design configurations. As Pielli and her Sci-Tech co-teacher Dianna Sanchez move around the room checking progress, they review some basic engineering principles while providing feedback to the girls.

This is the fifth week of a seven-week Girl Power STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program that runs for an hour each day after school and is guided by weekly STEM themes.

Science Teacher and Student

Sci-Tech teacher Sloane Pielli offers feedback on a project during a Girl Power session.

It’s led by Sci-Tech and made possible with a $14,000 grant from Coserv who look for opportunities like this to support STEM-related endeavors in schools—especially when it involves one of their adopted schools such as Bennett Elementary.

“We have funded [Sci-Tech] through our foundation before, in years past, but they’ve never teamed up through one of our adopted schools,” says Coserv Community Relations Specialist Lauren Baccus. “So, this is just a really unique opportunity for us to be involved in right now. We just have a great emphasis on STEM programming in schools. What a way, through the Girl Power program—STEM focused, but [for] girls. I mean, it’s just an amazing opportunity for these girls to be able to experience this program.”

Gabby Wisetsarakool is a 5th grader at Bennett, and she echoes that sentiment. “I come every day,” she says. “I really like it a lot. I’m really into engineering, and I love math, so I thought this was pretty cool. I think it’s actually really better [without the boys] because a lot of the boys in my classroom don’t listen. They’re always just really noisy.”

Like most of the projects produced during this session, Gabby’s will require a few tweaks after the first run, but soon the vehicle she built with her partner Cassie is moving slowly across the floor, and the girls laugh as they follow along behind it on hands and knees until it eventually reaches and then travels beyond the 5 ft. mark.

Science Students

Gabby and her partner Cassie follow the progress of their project.

They’re understandably pleased with their success, and they aren’t the only ones. Fellow 5th grader Abby Wang, who said she would like a career in engineering one day, builds a very different design that has plenty of power but travels little distance until she adds some traction to its six wheels. She’s been in the class nearly every day.

“It’s really fun,” she says. “It’s really creative, and I get to learn a lot of things about science.”

Pielli has been impressed with the girls over the course of the program. “We have a great group of kids here at Bennett. They all want to be here, and they’ve all got great ideas, and as you can see,” she says, pointing toward some of the finished projects, “we always have different results. They start with the same supplies, the same idea, and they go off in all sorts of directions. We also enjoy how much they team up together, encourage each other and give each other ideas.

“It’s really been the ideal group to do this type of program with because we want it to be inspiration coming from their minds. We’re just guiding them toward an interesting, scientific idea, an interesting experiment, and we want them to make the connections, to come up with the great ideas—a six-wheeled car, a chariot, different size axles. That’s entirely them,” Pielli says.

And, if these girls are facing a future powered by that kind of creativity and ingenuity, it looks like they’ll have everything they need to go as far as their ambitions can carry them — fueled by Girl Power.

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