June 23, 2016 at 2:16 pm

Tech Savvy Provides Contact Point for Local Girls Interested in STEM

Parents and schoolgirls register for Tech Savvy 2016.

Parents and schoolgirls register for Tech Savvy 2016.

More than 90 girls and 45 parents attended the third annual Tech Savvy event May 14 at Ohio University.

Tech Savvy is designed to help girls in grades six through nine become interested in pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Attendees came from both public schools and homeschools in Ohio and West Virginia.

Throughout the day, the girls attended a series of workshops that allowed them to gain hands-on experience in the sciences. The “Girls Who Code” session helped students learn the basics of computer coding while also teaching them why more women are needed in computer sciences. In the “Restoring Rusty Rivers” workshop, girls were able to examine water samples from contaminated, cleaned, and restored rivers.

Annually, one of the most popular sessions is “CSI Athens,” which gives girls the chance to analyze a crime scene, find clues, and nab a criminal. Other workshops allowed girls to take water samples from the Baker Center pond and to learn the fundamentals of civil engineering and bridge-building. Sessions were held in Baker Center, Porter Hall, and Stocker Hall. In walking to various workshops, girls got a small glimpse of the Athens campus and remarked that they were excited to see a university campus up close.

Lorraine Wochna, Alden Library’s Instruction Coordinator and subject librarian for English and the Performing Arts, led a workshop called “It’s on the Internet! Smart Googling and a Secret Database Stash.” Wochna notes that many girls struggle to find online resources to support girls’ interest in STEM fields, especially when they limit their searches to Google. Her workshop included a brief demonstration of tools available via The Smithsonian and NASA’s websites.

One of the short videos included in Wochna’s presentation was a NASA video explaining that Mars is not actually “the red planet.” She also showed them a few coding websites designed specifically for girls, where girls can choose projects and learn the basics of coding. Additionally, Wochna led the girls in a trivia game provided by the Carnegie Mellon project, which required the girls to break into teams and answer STEM-based questions.

“It’s important for girls to be info-savvy,” she notes.

OHIO ‘Becoming Point of Contact for Local Girls’

Though this was the first time attending Tech Savvy for the majority of the group, as several of the girls have attended Tech Savvy for multiple years, coming back to experience new workshops and hands-on sessions.

“This is my third year at Tech Savvy. There’s something new every year!” remarked middle-schooler Izzie Milstead after participating in the first workshop of the day.

Dr. Sarah Wyatt, founder of the event at OHIO, notes, “Tech Savvy 2016 was a resounding success. I am always amazed at the generosity of the volunteers. More than 80 people, faculty, students and members of the Athens community and Athens branch of AAUW, donated their time, energy and money to pull off this event. And the investment pays off in the smiles and excitement of the girls who participate.”

Dr. Melanie Schori, who served as Volunteer Coordinator for the event, explained that some girls have “graduated out of” the program and now serve as volunteers at Tech Savvy.

Schori noted that this year nearly 75 volunteers helped carry the load. Volunteers assisted with tasks ranging from setting up tables, coordinating registration, handing out welcome bags, walking girls and parents to and from workshops, and tearing down after the event.

Schori, who is also the president of the Athens Branch of the American Association of University Women, notes that she enjoys creating a memorable experience for the girls who attend Tech Savvy. Schori became interested in the sciences when she was in junior high, after attending a similar event at the University of New Hampshire. Though that event focused on engineering careers and Schori eventually decided to study botany, she found that she has encountered the scientific principles she first learned at The University of New Hampshire in her botany coursework.

“I want to create that same experience for these girls,” she explains. “Through Tech Savvy, Ohio University is becoming a point of contact for local girls.”

Dr. Melanie Schiori in front of the Tech Savvy sign

Dr. Melanie Schori

Sessions for Parents, too

Tech Savvy also gives parents, guardians, and relatives an opportunity to become familiar with the college admissions process and financial aid, as well as to pick up a few tips on adolescent psychology. Melissa Van Meter from Ohio University’s Office of Student Financial Aid and Scholarships led a session on locating funds for parents who want to get an early start on their scholarship searches.

Dr. Julie Suhr, Professor of Psychology at OHIO, led a session for parents called “The Teenage Brain,” which explained how the still-developing adolescent brain handles difficult decisions.

The event culminated in a keynote speech by Dr. Gerardine Botte, Distinguished Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Ohio University. Botte’s current research focuses on sustainability—clean water and energy, as well as sustainable food sources. Parents and their daughters together attended Botte’s keynote, where she explained how she pursued her interest in STEM fields and sustainability.

Tech Savvy was founded by Dr. Sarah Wyatt, Professor of Environmental and Plant Biology at Ohio University. Wyatt is currently chair of Tech Savvy at OHIO. Tech Savvy is a national program sponsored and funded by grants from the American Association of University Women.

In addition to the assistance provided by the American Association of University Women, Tech Savvy is sponsored by the Office of the Vice President for Research and Creative Activity, the Women’s Center, and the departments of Environmental & Plant Biology, Chemistry & Biochemistry, Mathematics, Mechanical Engineering, Physics & Astronomy, and the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

The fourth annual Tech Savvy will take place on Saturday, May 13, 2017.

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