UW-Stout News Story

Annual STEPS for Girls under way, with an eye on the future

July 9, 2012

Forty girls are exploring the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics as the 16th annual STEPS for Girls program began today at University of Wisconsin-Stout.

Campus organizers have educational and fun activities planned for the 160 girls total who signed up for the four weeklong programs.

There will be hands-on sessions in labs for packaging, plastics, electronics, automation, foundry and computer-aided design. Instruction will be in physics, chemistry, math, information technology, graphic arts and Web design.

One group of girls put on safety glasses as they entered the foundry in Fryklund Hall. Professor Brian Finder showed them how to use a bellows and had them stand back as he poured molten metal into molds they helped build.

Including this year, more than 2,500 girls have participated since the program began in 1997.

“STEPS for Girls is an unqualified success,” said Brenda Puck, an instructor in the engineering and technology department who took over as STEPS director in 2010 from founder Pete Heimdahl.

The program is for girls entering seventh grade. The goal is to interest them in traditionally male-dominated career fields. STEPS stands for Science, Technology and Engineering Preview Summer program.

The main purpose of STEPS is to introduce girls and young women to the excitement of STEM career fields through manufacturing experiences. A fundamental component of that goal is to inspire them to select the appropriate courses in middle and high school to help prepare them for these majors and careers.

All activities are presented by university STEM College faculty or professionals in the field; most of those presenting are women. Many UW-Stout students and departments are involved. In addition, two UW-Stout alumnae who are packaging engineers at General Mills, Brianne Maier and Jenny Brownell, will help.

A total of 35 high school girls who previously attended the program will help as junior counselors and lab assistants. About 100 girls applied for those positions. “They want to make a difference in another girl’s life,” Puck said.

Organizers also are making plans for 2013. Next year the program will take on a slightly more futuristic feel. The weeklong project that ties together the STEM fields will switch from building a remote-controlled model boat to an autonomous robot.

Puck and Turner Howard, program technical coordinator, said the robot project will create new learning opportunities while continuing to provide hands-on experience in modern manufacturing.

“Girls will be able to see the manufacturing process at its best. We’re always trying to improve and change things,” said Puck.

Howard, adjunct faculty in the STEM College, began coordinating the robot project during the 2011-12 school year. Development of the mobile bots, slightly larger than an upside-down cereal bowl, has involved many sponsor companies and, so far, UW-Stout students and faculty from manufacturing engineering, plastics engineering, industrial design and graphic design.

STEPS for Girls sponsors

Sponsors fund about 35 percent of the program, with tuition covering 40 percent and UW-Stout 25 percent.

“Without sponsors’ support the program would not be possible,” said Glendali Rodriguez, an associate professor in the construction program and STEPS scholarship coordinator.

Corporations providing funds or sponsoring individuals are: AnnMarie Foundation, Cardinal FG, D and S Manufacturing, ERMAK Foundry, General Mills, McNally Industries, Nexen, OEM Fabricators, Polaris Industries, Thomson Reuters, 3M Menomonie and Xcel Energy.

Corporations, businesses and groups donating materials, supplies and services are: American Association of University Women of Chippewa Falls, Broadway Bowl, Cardinal FG, Diversi-Plast, Goex, Honeywell, Johnson Electric North America, Kodak, Northern Computer Service, Phillips Plastics, Prent Thermoforming, RadioShack of Menomonie, Stout Ale House, Teel Plastics, TEK Roofing, Temple-Inland, Thorgren Tool and Molding and Turner Industries.

Individuals sponsoring participants are: Samuel Blue through the St. Paul Foundation, Wayne and Marian Livingston, Richard and Jeanne Rothaupt and Michelle Coblentz.

The second week of the program, July 15-19, coincides with the ASQ STEM Agenda Conference at UW-Stout July 16-17. Puck and Wendy Stary, assistant professor in engineering and technology, will present a paper at the conference on the program and lead a tour for attendees.

A sponsor reception will be held Wednesday, Aug. 1, on campus during the final week of this year’s program.

For more information on STEPS for Girls, including how to apply for 2013, go to the website.

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