Some members of the Girl Scouts of Ohio’s Heartland recently explored the science behind sustainable energy with engineering staff and students at The Ohio State University.
Girl Scouts attending “Scoping Out Solar Energy” at Ohio State’s Institute for Materials Research (IMR) Nanotech West Lab and Center for Electron Microscopy and Analysis (CEMAS) took part in discussions and hands-on science and technology activities with College of Engineering volunteers.
Throughout the day, the nearly 20 Girl Scouts learned about energy use, conversion and storage, as well as energy consumption of electric vehicles. The topics complemented concepts learned in school and introduced them to new ideas regarding renewable energy and electron microscopy.
Through each activity, the elementary school-aged girls also had an opportunity to consider their potential roles as science and engineering leaders in the future.
“Programs like these inspire them to think creatively and propel them forward as leaders while working in settings they otherwise wouldn’t be able to access, like the Electron Microscopy lab at Ohio State,” said Beth Aiello, senior manager of programs at Girl Scouts of Ohio’s Heartland. “When girls get to see women working in STEM — real women — they get a glimpse of their own futures. This program allows Girl Scouts to meet fantastic women role models and mentors and helps them access the courage to dream big.”
Vicky Doan-Nguyen, assistant professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, led the program at Ohio State and coordinated activities with Girl Scouts of Ohio’s Heartland to not only enhance the girls’ knowledge of energy consumption, but offer counter-stereotyping activities.
Several STEM and outdoor programs are available to Girl Scouts, with activity paths promoting life skills and entrepreneurship through foci like engineering, computer science, outdoors and citizen-science projects. Girl Scouts can earn engineering badges as well, including ones for robotics and mechanical engineering.
“The counter-stereotypic imaging activity was really to get the students to think about their careers, way down the line, but this is laying that foundation for the next generation of scientists and engineers,” Doan-Nguyen said. “This is to get them to think, ‘What can I do to be a part of this and, eventually, lead the charge in scientific research of renewable energy?’”
The day began with introductions to materials science and renewable energy concepts. Doan-Nguyen also broadened the discussion to give a more global perspective, introducing the girls to concepts of energy geopolitics and economic factors of electrification and access. One of the Girls Scouts noted electricity is not equally distributed worldwide after observing a map from the Institute for Energy Research showing parts of the world lacking the electricity to light their homes.
From there, the girls constructed their own solar-powered model cars from kits. By 11 a.m., they were off to the races outside Nanotech West Laboratory.
The group later visited the Virtual Learning Digital Theater at CEMAS to view Si and graphite in scanning electron microscopes before touring the equipment.
The experience, however, wasn’t just for the girls. Doan-Nguyen said she hopes parents and guardians accompanying them took away something too.
“It was a family affair. And that is what we really want,” Doan-Nguyen said. “We are not trying to just promote science in the youth; they need a network that supports them, that says, ‘Yes, women in STEM are exactly what we need. And we need to do what we can to support our girls, and teenagers, and women to pursue these fields.’ It takes a village.”
Doan-Nguyen, recruited by Ohio State through the Materials and Manufacturing for Sustainability Discovery Theme, brought the program to life with assistance from the Underrepresentation in STEM group of the Humanities & Arts Discovery Theme Science and Technology Studies project, CEMAS, IMR, the Honda-Ohio State Partnership, and students within the College of Engineering and the Society of Women Engineers at Ohio State.
“It’s so important for girls to see they can work in science, technology, engineering, and math,” Aiello said. “The girls who attended were able to learn from students and faculty who were women firsthand and ask them questions. In the process, they discover that they can pursue a career in STEM if it’s what they feel passionate about.”
Girls who participated said they had a greater awareness of the importance of energy conservation by the end of the day, Aiello said, taking away knowledge useful to help their communities.
Given the positive feedback and enthusiasm from the Girl Scouts, Aiello invited Doan-Nguyen to officially be a part of the organization’s 2019 STEM program.
“By giving girls access to opportunities like this, we prepare these girls to be future leaders in the fields of engineering, science, and more,” Aiello said.
Closing out the program, Doan-Nguyen asked the participating Girl Scouts a few short-answer questions.
What is a renewable energy source?
Answers varied from “water” to “sun” and “wind.”
Describe a laboratory?
Again, each girl took away something slightly different: “A lot of computers,” “paper, pencils and a clipboard” and “anywhere a scientist studies and/or experiments.”
But what does that scientist in a laboratory look like? For that one, more of the girls answered in kind.
“A scientist looks like anybody.”
The Institute for Materials Research is an interdisciplinary institute that works across colleges and departments at The Ohio State University to facilitate, promote and coordinate research and infrastructure related to the science and engineering of materials.
Story by Mike Huson, IMR Public Relations Coordinator