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UNF Science and Engineering branches out to expand horizons of young girls

UNF is hosting a national conference to get more girls interested in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers.

The School of Engineering and Biology, Chemistry and Computing departments at UNF have partnered to sponsor “Expanding Your Horizons” Feb. 26, a conference that encourages middle school girls to explore STEM fields through fun, hands-on experiments.

Jean Fryman, UNF School of Engineering K-12 Outreach Director, said in a news release that only about 11 percent of engineers are females. But research shows a correlation between confidence and interest in science and math, she said.

“If girls feel they can do it, it feeds their interest,” Fryman said.

The girls will do educational experiments like building a spaghetti bridge, creating bouncy balls through chemistry and exploring biostatistics — the physiological explanation of how germs spread through using mathematical models to trace disease.

The students will also be treated to talks from Janet McCulloh, Mrs. Florida America 2009, and Megan Clementi, Miss Florida USA 2010, both electrical engineering graduates. McCulloh is not a stereotypical beauty queen. She is a United States Air Force veteran — she worked on F3 fighter aircrafts. She is also a mother, grandmother, engineer and project manager.

“I was never much of a girly-girl, more of a tomboy,” McCulloh said.

She was always logical, she said, but she did not find her niche until high school.

McCulloh said engineering is a beautiful field for women because it gives a high level of credibility in a society that equates math-based knowledge with intelligence.

“Girls should seriously consider engineering because it comes with immediate respect, a great salary, the opportunity to travel and endless career opportunities,” McCulloh said. “The best thing about it is that you are solving problems for people.”

Clementi, a graduate of the University of Central Florida, represented Florida in the 2010 Miss USA pageant with the platform of promoting science and math in the classroom. She remembers hearing how “uncool” it was to be a nerd throughout grade school, but now she embraces it.

“You can be captain of the cheer team as well as a straight-A student,” Clementi said. “You don’t have to compromise your passion for academics to fit in with the ‘cool’ crowd.”

While the girls are busy with their workshops, their parents will be educated about the UNF STEM Program and curriculum services counseling, financial aid and college admissions.

They will also hear from Dr. Diana Wehrell-Grabowski, a nationally recognized science education consultant. She has presented over 600 teacher training in-services at over 70 educational conferences, and provided over 13,000 hands-on science programs to students of all ages.

McCulloh and Clementi will also speak to the parents.

Fryman will explain what an engineer does in her “What is an Engineer” presentation during Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day Feb. 24 at the Student Union ballroom at 6 p.m. She has also organized other events for grade school students at UNF like an eggdrop competition, robotics building, a pinewood derby and more.

The Expand Your Horizons Network started in 1974 in the San Francisco Bay Area as an informal group of female scientists and educators who were concerned about low female participation in math courses, according to the EYH North Florida website. The ultimate goal of EYH is to “motivate girls to become innovative and creative thinkers ready to meet 21st century challenges.”

This event is just one of many the School of Engineering helps with in order to recruit young aspiring engineers. National Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day is two days before the EYH conference.

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