Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Hear It From a Girl Scout: STEM Confidence

In collaboration with Alcoa Foundation, Girl Scouts of the USA has provided eight Girl Scouts since 2013 with the Alcoa Chuck McLane Scholarship, which is available to Gold Award recipients who complete Gold Award projects related to science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM). Amber Barron of Girl Scouts of Utah received the Alcoa Chuck McLane Scholarship in 2014. Amber is attending the University Utah where she is studying alternative energy and biodegradable materials, and hopes to work for NASA one day.

What have you been up to, and how are your college STEM studies going?
During the 2015 summer semester, I participated in the University of Utah Honors College’s “Ecology and Legacy Minor.” The minor drew ten undergraduate students from political science, engineering, biology, and liberal arts to discover and articulate consequences of human interactions with the world. The six-week intensive course took place in Centennial Valley, Montana, Salt Lake City, Utah, and Patagonia, Argentina. From my experiences in the program, I’ve become interested in alternative energy and biodegradable materials, specifically in creating biodegradable feminine hygiene products.

I currently have an internship in design and development at Biomerics, a polymer company in Salt Lake City focused on developing polyurethane-based materials for the biomedical field. Additionally, I am volunteering in a materials science and engineering lab where we are researching and developing biodegradable sanitary napkins for women in developed and developing countries.

What challenges have you faced, and how did you overcome them? 
The adversity I have faced has come mainly from myself. In high school my math teacher told me I needed to have more math confidence, that I needed to believe in my abilities and not hold myself back.  Unfortunately, I am still working to balance my “STEM confidence.” I believe this stems from the fact that all students compare their abilities and scores to those of the people around them, especially the people they think are “smart.” Although I rarely grasp concepts during my first exposure, I know a lot of my fellow students feel this way too.

Looking back, how has Girl Scouts and the Alcoa Chuck McLane Scholarship impacted your college experience?
Girl Scouts made all the difference—in my interest in STEM and my choice of a major. When I was in middle school, I participated in Girl Scouts of Utah’s Catalina Island Marine Institute trip during which we took marine biology classes, snorkeled, kayaked, and caught leopard sharks. It was the first time I had enjoyed STEM outside of the classroom, and it led me to seek other STEM opportunities and mentors and to advocate for increased STEM funding for underrepresented populations.

The Alcoa Chuck McLane Scholarship has enabled me to focus on studies and work relevant to my future goals, such as participating in sustainability-related research and spending more time on campus to receive supplemental instruction. Additionally, this has allowed me to qualify to apply for the five-year bachelor of science/master of science through the Materials Science and Engineering Department, specifically focusing on alternative energy and biodegradable materials.

How do you take the lead?
Each semester the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) Outreach Committee hosts “Girl Scout Night,” when Girl Scouts from across Utah come to participate in STEM-based activities and learn more about how they can make a difference through science and engineering. The Spring 2016 Girl Scout Night was themed “Stretch Your Mind!”  Girls learned about elasticity, materials properties, and sustainability. I spearheaded the "Sustainability Egg Drop—Stretching Your Resources” for which the girls were given a list of available materials in order to create a detailed sketch of an egg protection unit (EPU). Five minutes into their planning, their materials were cut and they had to redesign and then prototype a new EPU.

During the 2016–2017 school year, I will be the co-vice president of Outreach in the Society of Women Engineers at the University of Utah. Throughout the year, we will sponsor two Girl Scout Nights for Girl Scouts of Utah, host two “Day in the Life of an Engineer” events for high school girls, and bring STEM to elementary and secondary classrooms. We will be primarily focusing on the connections in STEM, linking aspects of art, engineering, and sustainability and focusing on our responsibilities as citizens and STEM professionals.

Amber Barron and Morgan Ferone - 2014 Alcoa Chuck McLane Scholarship Winners.
Hear Morgan's story!