Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Employees empower girls in math and science

Several women engineers and scientists from We Energies participated in a Girls Empowerment through Math and Science (GEMS) conference at UW-Parkside on May 18.

More than 200 Racine Unified School District middle school girls attended the event to learn and be inspired by women in science and math careers.

"I think it is important to expose young people to all of the opportunities available to them in the professional world, but it is particularly important to expose girls to the opportunities in science and engineering,” said Elizabeth Ehrke, an engineer at We Energies. “This event gives us a chance to show that science and engineering are exciting, fun and open to all. We can also serve as strong female role models to the next generation of female innovators and leaders."

Ehrke’s presentation used the fun of dropping heavy objects on pieces of sheet metal to demonstrate how engineers solve problems. Her goal was to show the girls that they do not need to be an expert or a genius to use problem-solving skills to come to a meaningful conclusion. She says that science and engineering are not about knowing the answer but about finding the answer, which is the fun part.

"I enjoyed all the experiments today,” said Marysol Hernandez from Jerstad Middle School “It’s important for me to know math and science because I want to be a doctor one day."

Other experiments consisted of the students constructing their own water-filtration system, using cups filled with different elements like glitter. Another project examined the impact of fishing on ocean fish population. M&Ms were used to represent the fish, and the students used straws to suck up the M&M fish to visualize a way to prevent widespread fish population loss.

One of the most appetizing presentations was on edible aquifers. Aquifers are layers of rock that can contain or transmit groundwater. In this experiment, We Energies environmental scientists Liz Stueck-Mullane and Stephanie Hinz had the girls use marshmallows and chocolate chips to represent permeable layers and ice cream to represent an impermeable layer.

The event was held in partnership with the University of Wisconsin-Parkside College of Natural Health and Sciences, Girls Inc., American Association for University Women, Racine Unified School District, SAFE Haven and Racine County Workforce Development Center.

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