COM lights up for STEM conference for girls

A student shows off bone fragments found in the owl pellet she dissected during College of the Mainland professor Sheena Abernathy’s biology session during COM’s first STEM Conference for Middle School Girls.

From dissecting owl pellets and discovering what owls ate for dinner to watching a chemistry professor make a gummy bear explode, over 250 girls explored careers at the first I Heart STEM Conference for middle school girls at College of the Mainland.

Girls learned about possibilities in science, engineering, technology and math (STEM) from offshore engineering to avian biology.

Middle school students from Texas City, Hitchcock, Santa Fe, Dickinson, La Marque and Scott Collegiate Academy in Galveston attended.

“Girls especially don't consider STEM fields. We want to give our students as many opportunities to consider these fields as we can,” said Principal Julie Southworth of Blocker Middle School in Texas City, who attended with students. “One little girl said, ‘I just want to apply to college and go now.’”

During a chemistry session professor Tom Johnson announced he was dunking money in alcohol and lighting it on fire. When the dollar didn’t disintegrate, he explained.

“It’s not magic. It’s chemistry. The alcohol burned off.”

Students explored dismantled computers, calculated population density with candy, learned about plant operations in the process technology lab and visually represented ecosystems.

“They were talking about birds and ecosystems and the environment. If birds are affected, it affects everything in the area,” said Allyson Cochran, 14, of Scott Collegiate Academy.

In nursing sessions with Laura Nunez, middle school girls discovered how nursing students learn on computerized manikins that mimic symptoms.

“(The teacher) could make (the manikin’s) tongue swell up. His stomach was breathing,” said Graycin Ferguson, 12, of Santa Fe.

Erica D’Eramo, BP Operations Team Leader for Greater Plutonio, captivated students’ attention with stories of working offshore in Angola 28 days on, 28 days off.

“I take a helicopter to get to work,” said D’Eramo. “When I’m offshore I eat and sleep there.”

She added in response to a student’s question, “There’s Wi-Fi.”

The event concluded with physics magic show with Herman Trivilino.

The event seeks to spark interest in growing fields at a critical time for students, Jennifer Bieszke said.

“Research shows that girls are swaying away from STEM fields in junior high,” said Bieszke, who helped coordinate the event with Tamara Hoodye-Harris. “We wanted it to be fun and hands-on and give them exposure to college and STEM fields. We know they are going to remember today.”

For more information, contact Jennifer Bieszke at jbieszke@com.edu or Tamara Hoodye-Harris at thoodye-harris@com.edu..

Middle school students watch a gummy bear go up in flames during College of the Mainland professor Tom Johnson’s chemistry demonstration.

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