Hitchcock Participates in Geek is Glam Girl Scout STEM Expo

By Katie Koerten

On October 12, I was honored to represent the Hitchcock Center in an event that has long intrigued me: the Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts “Geek is Glam” STEM Expo. This full day event takes place every fall at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and provides an opportunity for Girl Scouts in fourth through eighth grade to do STEM workshops, attend STEM career panels, see science demonstrations and meet women in STEM fields. In addition to the Hitchcock Center, there were dozens of other organizations represented, including Tower Hill Botanic Garden, the Discovery Museums, the UMASS Amherst Polymer Science and Engineering Department, the Connecticut Science Museum, and the Mystic Seaport Museum. Over four hundred girls from towns all over central and western Massachusetts attended the event.

I brought Hitchcock’s popular Rainwater Capture Challenge, in which participants must design and build a prototype of a roof that will collect and store rainwater for us by the building’s inhabitants. I explained to the girls that water security is not a given as people around the world face the effects of climate change. Girls got into teams and first had to make their designs. They knew they would have to build their roof out of the materials provided, each of which had a “cost”. They had a “budget” of $25 per team. The materials available to them were wax paper sheets ($5), plastic wrap sheets ($3), two sizes of aluminum foil ($5 small; $10 large), popsicle sticks (50 cents each), and paper straws (10 cents each). The teams could only start building once I signed off on their designs. Once they got approval, they could begin building. Timing was short and they had to work quickly.

After the building phase, we shared our work by testing each design. I poured two cups of water over the surface of each team’s roof. I simulated rain by pouring the water through a plastic cup with lots of holes punched in the bottom. Everyone got the same amount of water. After the two cups of water were poured, we measured how much each team collected. Some of the teams managed to collect most or all of the two cups of water. Others lost much of their water to leaks and spills. Many teams were surprised at their results! I think many of us learned that ideas are different when they on paper, vs when you actually build them!

I was delighted to have full participation for all 5 back-to-back workshops I offered. What I hope the girls learned is that they are capable of manipulating materials to do what they want, that they can work with teammates to solve problems, and that they can do hard challenges in a limited amount of time. Often engineers are forced with constraints such as limited time and money when working on projects, and I wanted the girls to get exposure to these ideas while also experiencing success and pride – they can be engineers too!

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