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There are a few engineers and scientists at Patuxent River Naval Air Station who are starting from scratch. They’re all women who have decided to organize a group dedicated to teaching science, technology, engineering and math to middle school girls in St. Mary’s County and beyond.
The new organization is called STEM-ing, or Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, Inspiring the Next Generation. These days, the women, about 13 of them, are spending hours each week, outside of their full-time jobs and families, designing workshops, reaching out to schools, talking with media, lining up food and more to organize a day-long event this spring.
“I really enjoy working with the kids and seeing what our future leaders are going to come up with,” said Brandi Simpson, an environmental scientist and a STEM-ing volunteer. “It’s refreshing seeing things through their eyes.”
STEM-ing will hold a public information session on Tuesday, Jan. 28, from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Lexington Park library’s Meeting Room B. Registration for the program will begin in March, and the STEM-ing event itself is scheduled May 3 at St. Mary’s College of Maryland and is sponsored by The Patuxent Partnership. Visit www.stem-ing.org, or write email@example.com for more information.
The women hosted a similar event last year, working for another organization, but decided to start their own group this year, focusing talents and resources more locally.
Plans are to host 140 girls in grades 6 through 8 and allow them to choose from more than a dozen workshops, including veterinary medicine, DNA, lip gloss, “What will my child look like?” and one called “Ship Wrecked.” Speakers, experts in STEM careers whom the organizers have dubbed “Wonder Women,” also will talk with the girls during the day.
“It’s another opportunity for people to learn,” said Andrian Jordan, a systems engineer and events chair with STEM-ing. “They’re looking at role models such as the keynote speakers and Wonder Women to see that people do make it and excel in their careers.”
“We are such a wonderful team,” said Mini Balachandran, a systems engineer, who is in charge of media outreach for STEM-ing. “No one sits back,” she said. “It’s fun when you have a team like that.”
Balachandran came from India to the United States as a young woman, right out of high school. She wasn’t sure what she would do, and at first it was tough adjusting. She took a dictionary everywhere she went and for quite sometime, she would only say in English, “Hello,” and introduce herself. But, she knew she was good at math and engineering.
She learned it from her father, a mechanical engineer who was always fixing things around the house. Whether it was an old fan that he always managed to keep going, or Balachandran’s bicycle, she stayed at his side. He was her teacher. “I learned that whatever happened, I could fix that myself,” she said.
That background helped her get accepted at Rutgers University, get hired at IBM building chips for smart phones and video games, and finally work at Pax River.
Balachandran said her time with her father is also where her love of tutoring began. She wants the girls to know they don’t have to be whiz kids, she said. They just have to work hard and be creative. And, even though statistics show that boys far outnumber girls in technical careers, there is room for them as scientists, doctors, pilots or the ones who build the planes.
“If I can do it,” Balachandran said, “then you can do it.”