Alexander Lumber | Champaign, IL

Girls build "skyscrapers," learn about STEM careers

Posted on 03/04/2016 9:05 AM

STEM Exploration Day for Girls drew 370 youth to UW-Stevens Point.
STEM Exploration Day for Girls drew 370 youth to UW-Stevens Point.

How do you build a skyscraper or make asphalt? Participants at a STEM Exploration Day for Girls now have a better idea of what’s involved thanks to a program that was recently conducted at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

Abby Bernhagen, engineer, of MSA Professional Services, Marshfield, assisted with the event. Adult volunteers provided hands-on exhibits and presentations that explain STEM careers. The American Society of Civil Engineering (ASCE) Northwest Branch donated all the supplies for the event.

Approximately 370 girls from 30 schools attended the STEM program that began in the UW-Stevens Point Dreyfus University Laird Room with various expo booths for the girls to explore. Then participants split into presentation classrooms where hands-on activities were performed with youth from grades 7-8. 

Bernhagen and Andy Walters of American Engineering Testing, Wausau, worked with the girls in the morning session to explain the process of making asphalt. The youngsters simulated the batch plant process by making asphalt cookies, made of crushed-up Oreos, crushed graham crackers, crushed Reese’s Pieces, ground up oatmeal flakes, and melted chocolate chips, each of which represented ingredients to make asphalt.

Later in the day, the girls learned about various STEM topics from 56 presenters who offered five different exhibits. 

Bernhagen, Walters and Joe Behlen of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Wisconsin Rapids, showed participants how to use creative thinking to make a skyscraper. Their building supplies were a paper plate, four sheets of 8.5”x11” paper, two 3”x5” note cards, two 5”x7” note cards, four straws, and three feet of masking tape. 

The goal was to create the tallest “Skyscraper” possible that could support the load of a golf ball. Skyscrapers were measured from the floor to the bottom of the golf ball.

The girls had the opportunity to complete a task with limited resources and time, similar to what engineers often face when planning and constructing their projects. During the three “Skyscraper Challenge” presentation sessions, the adult trainers explained the different engineering careers and how they all fit together.

“UW-Steven’s Point heard a lot of great feedback from our presentations and was very happy and thankful for our efforts at the event,” Bernhagen said.

For more information, contact Abby Bernhagen. 

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