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Workshops designed to get girls excited about STEM

By NICOLE CLARK

If you go

The Southern Maryland chapter of Expanding Your Horizons is hosting “Experience Your Imagination,” a day of science, technology, engineering and math-based workshops for middle school girls, Saturday, March 2, at the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center on 44219 Airport Road in California. Register online at http://run.to/eyhsomd. Or, email eyhsomd.com.

Staff writer

Andrian Jordan has always been a self-described tomboy. As a girl, if she wasn’t on the basketball court or watching football with her dad, she was probably in front of a computer mastering a video game or writing code.

Today, Jordan works as a systems engineer, an in-demand career in a region the high-tech Patuxent River region, making sure major functions of aircraft, communications systems and other technology work together as designed.

It’s important to Jordan to get other young women interested in science, technology, engineering and math. And, through her work with the new Southern Maryland chapter of Expanding Your Horizons, she’s drumming up interest in a series of workshops designed for middle-school girls, whether they’re tomboys, divas or somewhere in between.

Expanding Your Horizons “Experience Your Imagination” is scheduled for sixth- to eighth-grade girls, Saturday, March 2, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center. Registration is required, and open online through Feb. 13. The cost is $5 per student and includes lunch and a T-shirt. “But, if for some reason they can’t pay, we’ll work with them,” Jordan said. The event is sponsored by The Patuxent Partnership.

Planned workshops include “The Beauty of Science,” where girls learn the chemistry behind creating makeup and can make their own lip gloss. Statisticians will lead “I Can’t Find What to Wear,” helping girls use math to determine how many outfit combinations they have in their closets. (Some adult engineers were excited about attending this one.)

For video game experts, there’s “Ready, Aim, FIRE!” Based on skills learned in Angry Birds, girls will apply engineering and science concepts to build rubber band-powered catapults and accurately launch a battery of pingpong balls at targets. Students interested in aircraft or investigation can attend “Mayday! Mayday!” and join members of the Civil Air Patrol at the St. Mary’s County Regional Airport to “touch and crawl around in an airplane,” and develop a search-and-rescue scenario.

They’re still working through the details. But, Jordan said, “We’re hoping the girls will get to do three workshops.” She’s on a team of other technology professionals identifying inspirational speakers, workshop leaders and others who’ll talk about their own STEM-based careers.

Tuesday, the engineers were at the STEM Expo in the Dr. James A. Forrest Career and Technology Center. They were front and center, just a few feet away from the entrance, reaching out to girls who looked like they spend their days in middle school classrooms.

Brianna McGill, 13, of Lexington Park, scanned the list of possible workshops. She likes investigating mysteries and might try “Help, I’m Sinking! - Penny by Penny” and “Shh, I’ve Got a Secret.” Penny by Penny will be a problem-solving scenario where students imagine they’re stuck on an island because their boat, burdened with treasure, sank. They’ll have to make a new, aluminum watercraft and see how well it floats, adding one penny at a time. It is designed to help participants understand cryptography, encoding and decoding secret messages “with your own handmade cipher wheel.”

McGill’s younger sister, Natalie, 11, thought it would be fun to make lip gloss. She likes “creating mixtures,” she said.

Nancy Ball, a veterinarian in Solomons, is scheduled to lead “Dog Days,” an introduction to veterinary medicine workshop. Ball graduated from Ohio State University in 1983 and has been in Southern Maryland since. As a girl, she loved horses and turned that affinity into a career. She encourages girls who want to follow a similar path to get prepared no later than high school. Take advanced math, chemistry and biology, she said. Try to get experience working with vets, preferably with large and small animals.

On March 2, Ball said someone will likely bring a couple of dogs. She’ll talk with the girls about basic care, nutrition, how to brush dogs’ teeth and how vets conduct physical exams.

Tech careers can be rewarding, Ball said. But, with vets, people tend to romanticize the field. “You’re not just playing with puppies all day,” she said. Some animals aren’t nice; some people aren’t, either. Sometimes animals have to be euthanized or they come to the clinic with serious injuries.

On the other hand, Ball has known some of her clients 20 or 30 years. She’s enjoyed both helping them understand what might be troubling their pets and making it better. “I want to help people, and I want to help their animals live long, healthy lives,” she said.

Ball’s goal for March 2 is shared with the other tech professionals who’ll support “Experience Your Imagination” — to pique girls’ interests in finding careers they’ll enjoy, at least as much as she enjoys her own.

nclark@somdnews.com