Girls learn about problem solving at camp

MERCEDES — Katelyn Elizondo, curiosity spread across her face, stirred the glitter and food coloring in the glue, turning it into a playful blue.

Beside her, 10-year-old Jenna Medrano stirred her own putty which took on a more bluish gray color. Both girls were learning about science yesterday at the GEMS (Girls in Engineering, Math and Science) Camp. The event was held at the Science Academy of South Texas for girls 8 to 10 years old.

“I like science projects because it makes science more fun,” said Katelyn, 10, a fifth grader from North Bridge Elementary School in Weslaco. She began talking excitedly about working with circuits and light and conductors, displaying a sharp analytical mind.

This was the first year the Science Academy has held the event, and 40 girls rotated between four stations. They made putty for bubbles, built circuitry, made puppies with 3D printers and built wooden bridges with popsicle sticks. The projects were related to a theme involving Tinkerbelle. The circuitry project was the creation of a doorbell.

Science Academy Principal Irma Castillo said the event was being held to address the lack of girls and women pursuing the STEM professions.

“We want to let them know they are problems solvers,” Castillo said.

Estella Pacheco taught the station about making putty.

“We are making silly putty,” Pacheco said. “You are going to be making a reusable bubble and you can bounce it off your wall.”

Karina Hinojosa, a senior, was one of many Science Academy ambassadors helping with the event. She was having fun working with the girls. They had now added starch to their putty and were kneading it in their hands. Several of them talked about how sticky and slimy it felt.

“Keep rolling it up in your hands until all the starch comes out,” Karina, 17, told the girls.

“Squeeze it, squeeze it,” Pacheco said.

The girls were literally experiencing a scientific process, feeling it, observing it, understanding it. Katelyn seemed to pour all her concentration and her zest for the sciences into the blue mixture as it took shape. Jenna seemed at once to light up with her inquisitiveness.

She’d most enjoyed learning about 3D printing.

“It’s going to be used in the future to help people, especially in space,” she said. “They can take the 3D up in space and use it to make parts for the space ship.”

As each wad of putty acquired the consistency necessary for the next step, the girls used narrow straws to blow them into bubbles. Some inflated quickly and then wilted, much to the grins and laughter of the children and the ambassadors.

The children now rotated to another room where Nelly Houston taught them about electrical circuits.

“You put the connectors and wires together,” said Haley Zuniga, a fifth grader at Airport Elementary School in Weslaco. She produced a plastic circuit board loaded with wires and batteries and resistors.

“You use the wires to connect to a battery,” she said, then going into greater detail about how it all worked.

She’d earlier delivered an inspiring declaration about the event’s effect on her.

“If you can dream something, you can actually make it happen,” she said.

It’s the dream of people in many places that the effort to encourage everyone to tap into their potential will result in more girls and women entering the STEM professions.

They represent another untapped resource, minds hungry for knowledge, for skills, for the opportunity to reach their potential and share their talent with the world.