STEM passion, starting early

Ryan Reiss/Daily
Jadyn Freeman, Zoey Taylor and Sara Finachea experiment with chemicals and food dye to make 'elephant toothpaste' during FEMMES, or Females Excelling More in Math, Engineering, and the Sciences at the Medical Science Building Saturday. Buy this photo

By Brooke Pearcy, For the Daily
Published November 17, 2013

Most fourth, fifth or sixth graders don’t get the chance to learn from a college professor about how the brain sends signals to muscles or how a prosthetic limb works.

That’s unless they attended the capstone event held Saturday by Females Excelling More in Math, Engineering.

FEMMES is a student-run organization that hosted the first of its two capstone events. The group of both graduate and undergraduate students arranged for girls to spend a day participating in activities in different science, technology, engineering and math fields.

The Michigan chapter of the organization was started in 2011 after the national group was founded in 2006 at Duke University.

Glory May Bradley, one of the 130 girls from nearby schools who attended, has returned to the event for the third time to further explore scientific concepts.

“I like doing all of the experiments,” Bradley said. “And I’ve liked science since I could talk.”

Rackham student Abigail Garrity, the co-president of FEMMES, hopes the girls will leave with exactly the feeling Bradley described.

“I want them to walk away with a sense of self-efficacy and empowerment,” Garrity said. “I want them to walk away inspired and excited about the experiments and the activities that they participated in.”

Each of the activities at the event was created and taught by students and University professors. Activities ranged from making ice cream with liquid nitrogen to creating glow sticks.

FEMMES hosts the event to help them realize their potential in STEM fields, with the long term goal of easing the shortage of Americans in STEM-related careers.

“There are a couple of different aspects to the crisis in STEM education,” Garrity said. “One aspect of it is that a lot of our high-school students in the United States are not fully prepared for science and math when they get to college.”

State Rep. Adam Zemke (D–Ann Arbor) also attended the FEMMES capstone event and was able to engage in activities with the kids. Zemke, who has worked with the state government to increase grant opportunities for organizations like FEMMES, said he recognizes the benefits of more technical education opportunities.

“STEM education, in particular the hands-on application of math and science technical concepts, is really important because Michigan has such a technical driven economy,” Zemke said. “The ability to attract and retain highly educated, technically educated talent is really important.”