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RI STEM Center at RIC Hosts Middle School Career Expo

Electronic Earrings (from left): Loraine Cancel from the Newport Undersea Warfare Center with Tabitha Polce, an 8th-grader from Gorton Junior High School.

Electronic Earrings (from left): Loraine Cancel from the Newport Undersea Warfare Center with Tabitha Polce, an 8th-grader from Gorton Junior High School.

Science – as an academic subject and as a career field – can be cool. 

So can technology, engineering and mathematics. Together, these four subject concentrations make up the STEM fields of study that educators say must be better promoted to students – particularly females – at a young age.

The RI STEM Center at Rhode Island College recently hosted Tech Collective’s third annual STEM in the Middle workshop and career expo, a day of education aimed at raising awareness and increasing opportunities for participation of young women in the sciences.

“STEM in the Middle fulfills a critical need for interactive and participatory programs for middle school students, especially girls,” said Carol Giuriceo, director of the RI STEM Center. “Our workshops and activities engage students, inspire curiosity and open new doors of opportunity. Every girl should feel confident about her skills and be excited about STEM.”

Ninety-three middle school girls from the Sophia Academy in Providence, John F. Deering Middle School in West Warwick and Gorton Junior High School in Warwick attended the expo.

JoAnn Johnson, manager of youth & education programs at Tech Collective, Rhode Island’s bioscience and information technology industry association, said middle school is the best time to educate young women about the STEM fields and possible studies and careers in those disciplines.

Middle school, she said, is where students first are exposed to peer and education pressures. Students may shy away from pursing STEM fields of study if they encounter gender stereotypes or if they lack awareness about opportunities.

“More and more, middle school continues to be identified as a turning point in students’ perception of and engagement in STEM,” Johnson said. “STEM in the Middle’s combination of education, industry connection and first-hand experience is its key to success in engaging and inspiring students.”

Each student took part in three hands-on interactive STEM workshops on topics including social media, chemistry, art and geographic information systems.

In one workshop, girls learned how to use Scratch, a computer programming language designed to create interactive stories, animations, games and art.  In another workshop, girls used smoldering irons to make earrings from electrical fuses.

Students learned from female STEM industry leaders, including those from Ahlers Designs, Free Geek Providence, the Naval Undersea Warfare Center and Rhode Island College.

STEM in the Middle is funded through a Governor’s Workforce Board of Rhode Island industry partnership grant and sponsored by Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems.

The RI STEM Center at Rhode Island College facilitates state-of-the-art professional development, research and collaborative partnerships among Pre-K to college educators, teacher candidates, students and community stakeholders to advance STEM education and literacy.