A senior at New Albany High School spoke about her efforts to inspire young girls to explore science, technology and math on Wednesday.
After school ends, some middle school girls crowd around a counter to watch older girls, like senior Kate Miller, slice open melons. This is not home economics class, but a meeting of FIONA, the Future Innovators of New Albany, 10TV’s Andrea Cambern reported.
The goal of the program is to snag the interest of girls while they are young, so they are more likely to sign up for science, technology, and math classes when they get to high school.
"We're dissecting cantaloupes to talk about how the human brain works," Miller said.
FIONA was Miller's senior seminar project and was part of the reason the National Center for Women and Information Technology named her one of the Top 35 Most Promising Scientists and Technologists.
Miller said that she stumbled into science when she signed up for a robotics class as a freshman, to be with a friend.
"I was one of two girls in the class. I was thinking, ‘Okay, maybe I should drop it, because this is crazy,’” Miller said. “This is such a weird environment."
The absence of girls in STEM classes is a source of frustration for New Albany teacher David Herman.
"There's a great need for scientists and engineers. And yet nationally, we're tremendously short,” Herman said. “There are tens of thousands of jobs unfilled and there's really no way to fill that void by recruiting from half the population, the male half of the population.”
Miller said that she fell in love with science.
"I just distinctly remember this moment during chemistry where I suddenly understood how particles collide, and then everything started making sense," Miller said. " It was like a curtain had been drawn back from how the world worked."
She said that science gave her a sense of confidence, and she wanted to share that confidence with other girls.
Miller said that she knew that she needed to hook their interest in science at a younger age, because by the time they get to high school it is often times too late.
Miller said that for most girls, science classes are structured backwards.
"They get the formula first, they seek the diagrams on the board, and by the time the fun part comes around where they get to see it and get their hands on it, it's already boring to them,” Miller said.
Miller decided to form the after-school club and began with the fun part.
"We tie-dyed and talked about chemical bonds. We built scale models of cities out of marshmallows and toothpicks to talk about civil engineering,” Miller said.
They group also baked to talk about proteins, built lava lamps and concocted flubber to talk about long molecules and polymers.
Herman said that thanks to Miller's efforts and enthusiasm, he is already seeing more girls in his classes.
Miller plans to attend the University of Pennsylvania next year and major in chemical engineering.
Watch 10TV News and refresh 10TV.com for more information.