Emily Lamb, an eighth grader at Chatham Middle School, first became interested in science in the fifth grade.

University hosts event designed to nurture interest in science and technology.

January 2016 – About 115 girls from eight middle schools converged on Drew University to learn about science, technology, engineering and math.

The event, sponsored by Drew and the New Jersey chapter of the American Association of University Women, aimed to stimulate interest in those subjects among sixth, seventh and eighth grade girls, just as they prepare for high school. Through a series of workshops, instructors from local public schools playfully engaged them with seemingly simple projects.

Designing roller coasters

Students smiled and laughed through Deborah Spencer’s “Fly! Go Higher Go Farther!” session, as they learned how to engineer foam gliders and then race them to learn the principles of flight.

Spencer, who teaches physics and aerospace engineering at Morristown High School, later noted that as the self-image of some girls “starts to deteriorate” in middle school, “they need to be told, specifically, that they can be engineers.”

During another workshop, “Smart Fabric: The New Frontier,” students created prototypes of conductive fibers with common ingredients like saltwater and pencil graphite. The goal, said instructor Simone Gault, a teacher at Chatham Middle School, was simply to foster creativity.

In other sessions, girls designed a roller coaster, learned circuitry to light up dough creations and built a rocket to land on the surface of “Earth 2.0.”

Emily Lamb, an eighth-grader at Chatham Middle School, said the smart fabric exercise was her favorite of the morning. She became interested in STEM in fifth and sixth grade, and now is part of a robotics team through the Girl Scouts.

Drew’s Gail Hilliard-Nelson: ‘The seeds of interest in college begins in the middle grades.’

Making the conductive thread was “really cool and something different — not something I’d ever heard of before,” she said, before adding that she enjoyed meeting girls from other districts.

Drew became a host at the suggestion of the dean at Stockton University, another college that holds Tween Tech events, according to Gail Hilliard-Nelson, director of Drew’s master of arts in teaching program. Drew’s location in Madison, N.J. was ideal because the Jan. 8 event catered to students from Northern New Jersey districts such as Madison, Chatham, Florham Park, Morristown, Somerset and Franklin Township.

Noting the paucity of women in tech, Hilliard-Nelson, who also serves as director of the NJ Schools to Watch program and a trustee of the New Jersey Association for Middle Level Education said, “We have to begin to build that interest at early ages. The seeds of interest in college begins in the middle grades.”