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updated: 2/12/2015 6:26 AM

Science for 'girly-girls' -- new NIU program hits Naperville

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  • Louisa McCarthy, CFO of Walt, LTD, gives a tour of the company's DeKalb tool and machine factory to youngsters in Northern Illinois University's new STEM Divas program, aimed at keeping "girly-girls" interested in science. The program launches in April at the NIU Naperville campus.

    Louisa McCarthy, CFO of Walt, LTD, gives a tour of the company's DeKalb tool and machine factory to youngsters in Northern Illinois University's new STEM Divas program, aimed at keeping "girly-girls" interested in science. The program launches in April at the NIU Naperville campus.
    Courtesy of NIU STEM Outreach

  • STEM Divas participants make jewelry boxes in the program that gives girls hands-on experiences in engineering and technology.

    STEM Divas participants make jewelry boxes in the program that gives girls hands-on experiences in engineering and technology.
    Courtesy of NIU STEM Outreach

 
 

Some girls like STEM.

They build robots and mix it up with the boys. They choose a STEM major and become engineers.

STEM -- the acronym for science, technology, engineering and math -- intrigues some girls without any gimmicks. But others lose interest when they begin to think science is no longer "cool," said Pettee Guerrero, a STEM Outreach associate for Northern Illinois University.

It's those girls -- the "girly-girls" -- who are prime participants in a new program coming in April to NIU's Naperville campus: STEM Divas.

"I created the program to target the girly-girls," Guerrero said -- girls who like makeup, jewelry and wearing pink.

STEM Divas has been popular since it launched last fall in DeKalb, giving girls a chance to don hot pink hard hats and tool belts for hands-on science with a feminine twist.

As STEM Divas, girls ages 7 to 10 will make earrings using a 3-D printer, craft a wooden jewelry box with saws and electric screwdrivers and combine ingredients using chemistry to make glittery soap or glossy lip balm.

Those activities caught the interest of Caitlin Cassello, a 10-year-old student in DeKalb, who as of last summer didn't particularly like science and wanted to be a dancer or a singer when she grows up, her mother Melanie Vidlak said. Caitlin attended two STEM Divas classes last fall and enjoyed them so much that she asked for more as a Christmas gift.

"Now she said she's interested in engineering, which is very different from last summer," said Vidlak, a teacher who appreciates the increase in efforts to keep girls involved in science.

Guerrero says chemistry, woodworking, materials science and technology all are part of the Divas program, but in a fun way.

"There has been research done that girls lose interest in the science fields in middle school, so that's why we want to do it right before," she said. "There's so much going on, their minds are everywhere. They're changing schools, changing friends, trying to be cool, and science is not really cool in their eyes. That's why there is this interest being lost."

Girls who are interested in science, math or tech can sign up for the two-week program, which takes place on two Saturdays, April 18 and 25, for $79. Classes start at 9 a.m. or 1 p.m. and last three hours.

STEM Divas is one of several suburban camps, programs, clubs and classes aiming to make girls feel more comfortable pursuing an interest in science, technology, engineering and math.

Branches of the American Association of University Women have hosted "Tech Savvy" day programs to introduce girls to careers in STEM.

Elk Grove High School started last fall an all-girls introduction to engineering design course and an all-girls robotics team.

Some schools in Schaumburg Township Elementary District 54 offer GEMS clubs for Girls Excelling in Math and Science along with counterpart Boys Analyzing Science and Engineering clubs for young men.

At Naperville Central High School, GEMS stands for Girl Engineers, Mathematicians and Scientists, and the club hosts a summer workshop to provide career exploration to younger students.

The expansion of STEM Divas to Naperville builds on NIU's STEM Saturdays program. Other Saturday classes, open to girls and boys, include roller coaster science, a Lego robotics engineering challenge and an introduction to Arduino, which is a tiny, do-it-yourself computer.

Students pursuing STEM degrees at NIU help as mentors in the weekend programs to give participants a one-on-one learning experience.

"It's a lot of fun," Guerrero said. "But they're learning in a very safe environment."

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