At this year’s annual Girls Empowered by Math and Science (GEMS) Conference at UW-Parkside, keynote speaker and NASA engineer Florence Tan spoke to the importance of gravity assists – ways scientists further propel a craft along its trajectory in space missions. She explained to the more than 200 Racine-area middle school girls in attendance that this can be a metaphor for life; that their teachers, parents, inspirations and even challenges act as “gravity assists” along the trajectory of their aspirations and careers, helping them to move forward.
Tan’s words inspired students to take on a day of workshops with topics ranging from forensic science to coding to the various STEM careers available in the energy industry. Along with other organizations, We Energies employees hosted workshops in which students viewed food demonstrations of everyday science, built and designed bridges, made pencils out of graphite and clay, and built their own batteries from household objects.
Alison Castronovo and Melissa Schultz, We Energies employees in the environmental department, hosted the “Penny Power” workshop. They helped students construct batteries out of pennies, washers and mounting board soaked in a water, salt and vinegar solution to familiarize the students with current electricity. They also led an experiment with static electricity that involved balloons, wool and cereal.
|Students used household objects to explore how electricity works.|
“This year, we decided to highlight what electricity is, how it is made and distributed, and how it can be stored,” said Castronovo, who has led a workshop at the conference for the past three of its five years. She values this work because of the importance of encouraging women in her field. “I recently read that the energy industry is among the least gender-diverse industries in the United States. It’s important for our company to support girls’ involvement in math and science education and potentially spark an interest in our field to help close that gap.”
|Environmental Engineer Alison Castronovo taught students about electricity.|
Castronovo echoed Tan’s statements as her trajectory to being an environmental engineer had gravity assists of its own. She credits her father who was a chemistry teacher, her sixth-grade teacher and an internship that provided her with real-world energy company experience with helping her solidify her decision to work in the energy sector on environmental projects.
And now, Castronovo is paying it forward by taking her role as a gravity assist in the girls’ journey seriously. “The GEMS Conference gives us an opportunity to interface with the middle school girls, encourage them to stay engaged in math and science and to be positive role models,” she said.