The Grand Rapids Public Museum (GRPM) and the DTE Energy Foundation have partnered for the second year in a row to offer a special STEM education opportunity for middle school girls. This Young Women in Science program at the GRPM is engaging four cohorts of students from Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS) in 12 sessions each of after school learning and exploration. The GRPM worked directly with GRPS district leaders to identify schools in the community that could benefit most from the STEM enrichment. The participating schools are Alger Middle School, Riverside Middle School, University Preparatory Academy, and Westwood Middle School.

Students are exploring themes connected to the science and engineering of building a sustainable future for Grand Rapids, with a strong emphasis on energy. Over 6 weeks, these young women investigate concepts and complete experiments connected to their middle school science and math standards. This learning in a fun, after school environment compliments the learning happening during the school day.

“I can not say enough about this program! My girls are excited and enthusiastic about both the opportunity and the learning that is taking place,” says Grand Rapids University Prep Academy science teacher Sherri Kraai. “They are sharing their experiences back at school in our science classes as they coincide with our unit on natural resources. They see the value of this learning experience and appreciate the extra time and effort given to help them understand the importance of energy in our day-to-day lives and the role WOMEN can have in this field, not only today, but for their future.”

Programs provide learners advanced knowledge and skills in science and engineering practices through hands-on activities. The program support from the DTE Energy Foundation allowed GRPM to purchase modular experiment materials, so students can actively see and test how renewable energy technologies work. Program laboratories include: experimenting with solar panels, wind turbines, electrolyzers, supercapacitors, and more! Students surpass the expectations set for them in each activity. One of the clearest measures of their talent and drive is that several of these students have spontaneously ran their own experiments when they finish early. GRPM overheard phrases like “Well, what would happen if…” or “We should see how changing this impacts the results.” When given the opportunity to engage in authentic scientific investigations, these girls excel!

An exciting lab tasked students to test several alternative energy sources in order to power a model car. They had to outfit their cards to run down the 3rd floor hallway of GRPM on three different energy sources–a super capacitor charged with a hand crank generator, a salt water battery, and a hydrogen fuel cell. Then, they calculated and compared the distance traveled and speed for each run. Evidence of critical thinking and problem solving filled the Museum as groups worked through glitches along the way. Comments like, “I don’t think this test will be accurate. Our car isn’t going straight. We better try again,”  or “We need to recharge the capacitor and make sure we do it for the full minute,”  and “That speed doesn’t make sense. We better check our math,” were par for the course.

Beyond experiments and academic growth, students also have reflective discussions with a panel of female STEM professionals from different sectors of industry. Partnering organizations include Amway, Caterpillar, Dow Corning, Friends of Grand Rapids Parks, Grand Valley State University, Michigan DEQ, Progressive AE Society for Women Engineers, and Spectrum. As partners share their stories, the overriding message has been that none of them perfectly sure what they wanted to do when they were in school, but they kept exploring, didn’t give up, and persisted in looking for challenges and experiences in STEM areas until they found one that fit. Learning about their jobs and what inspired each one to pursue a career in science or engineering has made a big impact on the girls.

An anonymous thank you letter from a student from Grand Rapids University 

Prep Academy read, “Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be able to be a part of Women in Science. I have enjoyed doing the science experiments we got to do….I also want to say thank you for letting me meet other women who enjoy science…I am going to keep learning about science and I will teach my family about what we have been able to learn!”

Students will display the product of a renewable energy design challenge and share a reflection of their program experience at a Family and Friend Showcase at the GRPM. The girls were challenged to prototypes inventions that would enhance the Museum and operate using renewable energy technologies, and each group is developing an innovate design. You are invited to join community members to attend this celebratory event on Thurs., May 23, 2019 at 6 p.m.!