Friday, August 10, 2012

Nurturing a Passion for Math and Science

By Renata Krach
Intern, Office of Communication 

(l-r) Ketaki Pawar of Rocky Hill and Makrina Nolan of Coventry work on their "mouse trap car."
In a second-floor hallway in Dana Hall, three girls kneel next to their creation. With scissors, they make a few last-minute adjustments on the tape holding the frame together. They make sure the attached wheels spin properly, and then carefully spring the mousetrap on top. Snap.

“Oh my God, it actually moved!”

Finally, a scientific breakthrough. The girls successfully created a miniature vehicle powered by a mousetrap.

They, along with 13 other middle school-age girls, are participating in “Mad About Science,” a unique collaboration between the Women’s Education and Leadership Fund (WELFund), Summer Place, and the University’s Office of Community Relations. The program is designed to inspire girls to pursue their love of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and to encourage future female scientists, engineers and mathematicians.
Another Mad About Science participant works on her mouse trap car.

The two-week program began July 23 and will continue through August 3, coinciding with the third session of Summer Place. The 16 participating girls experience hands-on STEM programming in the afternoon and take part in athletics and other Summer Place activities in the morning.
The program is free of charge for the 16 participants, thanks to the generous support of the Connecticut Space Grant Consortium, WELFund, Summer Place and the Office of Community Relations.
“You have to get them interested during middle school in order to get into the advanced math and science programs,” says Mad About Science coordinator Mary Arico, assistant professor in the College of Engineering, Technology, and Architecture. She says that she went to a science camp in her youth, which was held at a community college. “We called it 'nerd camp',” she says, laughing. Her participation gave her the idea to do a similar program at the University of Hartford.
See a video of Arico discussing the "Mad About Science" program.
The girls, who come from towns all around Greater Hartford, eat popsicles as they work. For this activity, they are split into teams of three or four to create mousetrap cars. An impressive collection of building materials litter the tables; everything from LEGO pieces to old CDs, wood and plastic scraps, as well as tape, scissors, and glue, are at their disposal. They constantly modify and repair their creations as needed. Each group’s creation displays a unique concept of “car”: one is shaped like a Formula-1 racer, and another has oversized wheels like a monster truck.
Another team brings their car to the hallway. When asked if it was moving yet, a group member gave a disappointed “no”.
Dissecting chicken legs.

“But it went in a circle,” another adds.
One of the assistants in the program is University of Hartford student Lydia Weitzler, '14, a biomedical engineering major who hopes to work with prosthetics in the future. Her job is to encourage the girls and provide suggestions if their project runs into problems. She says that the girls are doing well. “They’re really enthusiastic about it,” she adds.

“This is my first time going to a summer camp, so I was kind of nervous about like ‘oh, what am I gonna do there?’ but this is a lot of fun,” said Sadhana Venkataraman of Middletown. When asked what they would like to be when they grow up, the girls' answers included “engineer at Pratt & Whitney,” “forensic scientist,” and “I’m not sure yet.”


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