Hartford, Connecticut, March 21, 2017 – Trinity College recently hosted Tech Savvy, an annual daylong event for girls in sixth through ninth grade who are interested in careers in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM). The program on March 4 was put on by the Connecticut chapter of the American Association of University Women
(AAUW), with the help of 63 Trinity students in the STEM fields, Trinity faculty, and volunteers from the surrounding area. Alison Draper
, director of Trinity’s Science Center, and Donna Haghighat ’89, co-president of AAUW, directed the event attended by more than 100 girls, adults, and teachers.
This is the fourth year that AAUW has sponsored Tech Savvy, and the third year Trinity hosted the event. Although Haghighat’s career is in business and not STEM, she is passionate about women’s issues. Haghighat said that she and other women involved with AAUW recognized that women were underrepresented in higher level STEM courses at colleges and universities locally and nationally. This sparked the idea of Tech Savvy. After connecting with Draper and other faculty in the STEM fields at Trinity, Haghighat and AAUW began working towards hosting the event on the College’s campus. “Between [Trinity] and the Petit Family Foundation’s funding, and AAUW’s programmatic support, this has become a huge success and each year we tend to see more girls and parents involved in the program,” Haghighat said. Trinity’s president, Joanne Berger-Sweeney, is a strong supporter of the event and is also invested in promoting opportunities for women in the STEM fields. Berger-Sweeney majored in neuroscience, holds a master’s degree in environmental health sciences, and holds a Ph.D. in neurotoxicology. Haghighat sees Berger-Sweeney as “an amazing role model for these young girls.”
The event began with a welcome address by Berger-Sweeney, in which she shared her own story about being a woman in the STEM fields. “I encourage you to explore the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. If you love these subjects, as I did, keep on going,” Berger-Sweeney said. She gave examples of how Trinity students are taking their STEM education and applying it outside the classroom in the Hartford area. “I learned recently that Trinity student Jordan Politz, a senior engineering major, leads the after-school Dream Camp robotics program for middle schoolers twice a week in our Koeppel Community Sports Center. She also did an internship at Hartford Steam Boiler last summer doing research on green energy sources,” she said. In addition, neuroscience majors Jasmin Williams ’17 and Meaghan Race ’18 are working at the Hartford Hospital’s Institute for Living on a study using fMRI to understand brain injury in Hartford-area patients, Berger-Sweeney said.
Tech Savvy participants attended four of 14 workshops led by Trinity students, faculty, and other volunteers from Central Connecticut State University, University of Hartford, Academy of Aerospace and Engineering High School, and Naugatuck Valley Community College. Molly Schineller ’18, a neuroscience and biology double major, volunteered at the event and said, “The workshops show the girls different aspects of the STEM field, and will show them what they could possibly get involved with in the future.”
As a member of STEM Ed, a Trinity student organization, biochemistry major James O’Leary ’17 led a workshop titled “Being a Forensic Scientist.” O’Leary explained that STEM Ed hosts science experiments at the Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy (HMTCA) in order to spark an interest in the sciences for middle school aged students. In his workshop, the girls played the role of the investigator and used the scientific method to examine evidence. “It is a fun experiment that gives students the idea of how science applies to real life careers,” he said.
Jessica Voight ’17, an engineering major with a concentration in biomedical, led a workshop called “Saving a Life: Heart Valve Replacement.” “Students were introduced to the field of biomedical engineering and used their knowledge about how a healthy heart functions to design and construct a prototype one-directional heart valve with craft supplies,” said Voight. “The workshop focused not only on the mechanics of the heart, but also the engineering design process including working with constraints, alternative analysis, and trial-and-error testing.” Voight is a member of Trinity’s chapter of Society of Women Engineers, and offered the workshop along with the other members of this organization.
Ian Adelstein, Harold L. Dorwart Visiting Professor of Mathematics, helped lead a workshop with Kalin McGowan ’17 and Catherine Cooper ’17 called “Unsolved Mathematics – The Collatz Conjecture.” The Collatz Conjecture, Adelstein said, “is a problem in mathematics that, although very easy to state, is currently unsolved. The students were excited to catch this glimpse of research mathematics and to experience ideas beyond the usual confines of their classroom curriculum.”
In addition to their four sessions, participants attended a “Savvy Skills Workshop” led by Denise Flynn of The Hartford and a speech by the event’s keynote speaker, Erin Duffy, Ph.D., who is the chief scientific officer of Melinta Therapeutics. There were also programs and panels for parents and adults offered throughout the day.
The young women were able to explore different areas in STEM through Tech Savvy and get the chance to see what scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians study. Voight said, “I found many students do not realize what a STEM career can include. I think it is particularly helpful to expose them to the different possibilities as they move into high school and begin to have more freedom with class selection.”
Written by Sophia Gourley ’19