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A future in STEM

The freshman girls from Liberty High School filed slowly into Whitaker and Neville labs on Monday morning with the energy one would expect from high school freshmen on a Monday morning.

“How many of you have had some relative tell you not to eat dirt?” asked Vassie Ware, professor of molecular biology, before launching into a discussion of dirt, bacteriophages, tuberculosis and the importance of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers.

Imagine Your STEM Future Day,” a full-day event sponsored by the Office of Academic Outreach at Lehigh University, the Bethlehem Area School District and Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania (GSEP), immersed more than 250 young women in a college STEM experience. The program was funded by the Comcast Corporation through the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC), which enables GSEP to partner with school districts to offer girls STEM-based academic experiences.

“We are tasked with reaching out to schools to do these types of programs in elementary, middle and high schools. We really want to bring STEM programs to inner-city schools, and Liberty is part of our territory, so to speak,” said Milagros Rivera, membership manager for special initiatives at GSEP. GSEP is the largest girl-serving organization in Pennsylvania with more than 40,000 participants.

Bill Best, professor of practice in electrical and computer engineering, increased student understanding of engineering with a presentation called “What Is Engineering? Is It More Than Driving Trains?”

“I feel it is important to let especially young women know of the wonderful opportunities and challenges that engineering offers and that they can indeed study engineering,” said Best, who is also director of Lehigh’s CHOICES and IDEAS programs. “I hope that students take away a sense of the wonders of engineering, how much fun engineering actually is and that, as I say, 'engineers do good things.'”

Richard Vinci, professor of materials science and engineering, demonstrated materials science by, among other things, inviting students to taste marshmallows frozen in liquid nitrogen in a presentation titled "Smarter, Stronger, Cleaner: Why Materials Matter."

“I think most kids don’t get an opportunity to see anything like this kind of stuff. In fact, most parents are always saying, ‘Don’t touch that, don’t break that,’” said Vinci. “You can’t learn if you don’t touch things and break things.”

Read the full story at the Lehigh University News Center.

-Kelly Hochbein is a writer with Lehigh University Media Relations.

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