By Guest Contributors Tiffany Castricone, RA; Parmjeet Cobb, Ph.D.; Elizabeth Crowe, Ph.D.; Amabelle Paquia Marchi, P.E.; Daniel Pennington; and Karen Works, Ph.D.
Amabelle Paquia Marchi, the SAME Panama City Post STEM chair, Young Professional, and an Asian-American licensed civil engineer with DRMP Inc., always wished there were STEM events in her community when she was growing up. Research has shown that girls’ achievements and interest in math and science are shaped by the environment around them, the expectations of family, stereotypes regarding boys’ education in these fields, and a girl’s self-assessment about her skills.
For Marchi, these findings sparked an idea for a STEM outreach event for girls using the power of positive role models to highlight STEM female professionals and college students. As it would turn out, Florida State University Panama City (FSU PC) staff was intending to host a similar event and learned of the Post’s plans.
Together, the initial idea of a female STEM panel for a small group of girls grew into a one-day camp called “STEM Story” with more than 70 girls in fifth through eighth grades in attendance. The event was free thanks to sponsorships from the university, the Post, and SAME company sustaining members.
POSTIVE ROLE MODELS
“Ever since I was a young girl, I loved science. Sometimes it just takes one person who believes in you to prove you’re capable.” -Morgan Olsen, U.S. Coast Guard veteran, FSU PC electrical engineering student, and member of the SPEAR Robotics Team
During the event, girls were given the opportunity to interact with professional women making a difference in the world, highlighting their love for science, technology, engineering, and math. In addition, the girls engaged in hands-on lab activities and worked together in groups on fun engineering challenges. The event’s goal was to empower girls to imagine themselves pursuing their passions in STEM fields.
To start the day, the girls engaged with exhibitors from local agencies, including the Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division, a local high school robotics competition team named Galactic Squirrels, the Doolittle Institute, SAME, Boys & Girls Clubs, Science & Discovery Center of Northwest Florida, Gulf Coast State College, Girls Inc. of Bay County, and FSU PC. Many exhibitors remarked they had never seen such a large group of girls interested in STEM.
In the opening panel presentation, Amy Polick, associate dean of Academic Affairs at FSU PC, welcomed the girls to STEM Story. She reminded them that the women they would soon hear from had all faced challenges, but they had all persisted through them. Polick then read to them from Hillary Clinton’s She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World, a book about famous STEM women.
Following Polick’s opening remarks, a panel of female STEM professionals spoke about their work and how they got into their respective fields. The panelists represented a variety of ethnic and professional backgrounds, including an environmental consultant/Native American coordinator, project product engineering manager, architect, psychiatrist, U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sergeant in explosive ordnance disposal, as well as an engineering research lead, chemical engineer, and mechanical engineer from the local military bases.
“As a female who grew up in Haiti, traditionally it was expected for me to take up household chores and family duties, but I had no interest in those things,” said Mimi Batrony, a project product engineering manager. “My father took notice and worked with me; he pushed me and encouraged me.”
After the panel discussion, the girls broke into small groups, and FSU PC faculty led them in hands-on activities in mechanical engineering, programming, technology, forensic science, civil engineering, and physics. Yvonne Traynham, FSU PC Mechanical Engineering assistant teaching professor, remarked how fun it was to see the girls build balloon-powered vehicles and adapt their designs to make the cars faster, demonstrating the relationship between potential and kinetic energy.
The day wrapped up with a “Watercraft” group activity led by FSU PC students. Using plastic wrap, duct tape, and straws, the girls had to build a craft that could float and support the maximum number of pennies.
“Ever since I was a young girl, I loved science,” said Morgan Olsen, a veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard, FSU PC electrical engineering student, and member of the SPEAR Robotics Team and the Panama City Post. “Sometimes it just takes one person who believes in you to prove you’re capable.”
“Events like STEM Story are so important to middle school girls,” Tiffany Castricone, former president of the Panama City Post, 2020 SAME Young Professional of the Year, and event co-moderator, said. “They should dream big and learn that there is a world of possibilities if they can just allow their love for mathematics and science to persist—not allow the social pressures to steer them away from a lifetime love for the ‘un-cool’ subjects that turn into great paying careers. Never give into the idea that math is not for girls or let anyone tell you that you can’t do something.”
STEM Story was created by Daniel Pennington after being inspired by the success story of his daughter, Sascha. After she scored in the top 5 percent in mathematics on her SAT, Sascha was upset and asked, “What good is math? What am I going to be, a math teacher?” Pennington insisted STEM skills were incredibly important and would open up many career possibilities. So, he and Sascha met with the Mathematics Chair at Brandeis, who talked to them about STEM careers and gave them a list of 20 women in STEM fields. Over the next two weeks, Pennington and Sascha traveled around Boston meeting with female roboticists, engineers, and marine biologists. From these discussions, Sascha became convinced her math skills would end up being the key to her own remarkable career. Today she is Dr. Sascha Demerjian at Emory University.
Breiana Leingang, Panama City Post Student Chapter President, FSU PC civil engineering student, and event co-moderator, said events such as these help her create “connections that I can build with other engineers and employers that will bring many friendships and future career opportunities in the engineering field.”
Because of the great demand, not all the girls who wished to participate could be accommodated at the inaugural event. Faculty, students, and industry members have already asked how they can volunteer at the next event and plans for STEM Story in Fall 2022 are underway. The event will aim to include girls who were not able to participate previously, specifically targeting middle schools. Early collaborative planning and promotion, including with the local news station, was key to the success of STEM Story. The magnitude of the event would not have been possible without the partnerships of FSU PC, the Panama City Post, and the local community.
STEM Story allowed girls of different backgrounds to see their future selves pursue STEM degrees and where it can take them. The event gave the girls more confidence and exposure to STEM related fields and supported SAME’s long standing goals to supporting the development of dedicated STEM professionals and engineers to meet the future challenges of our nation.
Enriching the STEM Pipeline for the Nation
Goal 4 of the 2025 SAME Strategic Plan is to lead efforts to inspire, encourage, and enable youth to pursue STEM careers and help develop the technical capacity that our nation needs to remain globally competitive. SAME is meeting this goal through a number of initiatives and programs such as Post and National Engineering and Construction Camps, student mentoring, K-12 outreach, scholarships and sponsorships, and local and national organization partnerships.
STEM outreach is critical for America’s economic future and security. As SAME moves into its second century, we will continue to leverage our strategic positioning as one Society of vibrant Posts to make an impact at both the national and local levels. To learn more about our programs and get involved, please visit our K-12 STEM Outreach and College Outreach Communities of Interest, or Find a Post near you.