The halls of Ashley Hall School, a renowned all-girls school in Charleston, South Carolina, were abuzz with excitement and anticipation for the celebration of “Introduce a Girl to STEM Day” on Feb. 23.
Hosted by nine local federal agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Charleston District, the remarkable event inspires young girls to explore the world of science, technology, engineering and mathematics and discover their potential as future leaders. With a mission to break down gender barriers and promote inclusivity in STEM, this fun-filled learning experience aims to transform dreams into reality.
Bailey Horn, Charleston District geographer and Ashley Hall graduate, kicked the morning off with a “girls who have the will, have the ability” pep talk using the school’s Latin motto, “Possunt quae volunt” or PQV.
Her inspirational words set the tone for the event, emphasizing the importance of perseverance and determination in overcoming challenges. With her remarkable achievements serving as a testament to the limitless possibilities of a career in engineering, she encouraged the girls to dream big and pursue their passions.
“We’ve got women from the Army Corps, Coast Guard, Air Force, Naval Information Warfare Center Atlantic and more to talk to these young girls today in hopes of peaking their interest in STEM careers,” said Horn. “I am especially excited to be here because I am an Ashley Hall graduate myself. I graduated from the Class of 2015, but it feels like just yesterday I was here in the seats these girls are in today.”
Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day seeks to address the gender disparity often witnessed in engineering careers. Despite accounting for around half of the employed U.S. workforce, women in the United States only make up roughly 28% of those employed in STEM. By providing young girls with hands-on experiences and interactions with accomplished women engineers and scientist, the event aims to ignite their passion for engineering while debunking stereotypes and preconceived notions.
The main event comprised a series of interactive workshops meticulously designed to engage the participants and introduce them to various engineering disciplines. The school’s state-of-the-art laboratories were transformed into immersive spaces, inviting girls to dive headfirst into the world of innovation and problem-solving.
“Today, we’ve got a fun experiment set up to teach the girls about civil engineering and its applications in nature,” said Hanna Gervais, USACE civil engineer. “Using something as simple as water and sand, we can simulate erosion at the beach and teach the girls the importance of coastal renourishment, one of the major missions for the Corps of Engineers.”
In the U.S. Coast Guard workshop, the budding engineers collaborated to design and build ships capable of carrying heavy loads like the many container ships calling on the port of Charleston. In another room, the girls were guided by NIWC Atlantic mentors to explore electronics and circuitry using batteries, LEDs, and conductive materials.
At the U.S. Air Force workshop, the girls had the opportunity to test out the newest night vision technology that C-17 Globemaster III pilots use during night missions. Those interested in medical careersalso had a chance to visit the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center’s workshop, where they had the opportunity to investigate different organs using 3-D models.
“It is so great to have Ashley Hall alumni come and teach us things about STEM with so many interactive experiences,” said Nella Long, an eighth grader at Ashley Hall. “I enjoyed it so much and it was so fun.”
As the day ended, the students had a newfound determination and were excitedly discussing the possibilities that lay before them. Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day had successfully left an indelible mark on their young minds, cultivating a sense of empowerment and fostering a belief that they could excel in engineering and will one day change the world.
Dr. Claire Christensen, Head of the Math and Science Department and an Upper School mathematics and physics teacher at Ashley Hall, spoke passionately about the event’s impact on the girls.
“I’ve been working with USACE and the other federal agencies for a few years now on this event and every year, it is such a fantastic opportunity for our students to see real people doing the things they are learning about in their STEM classes,” she said. “To be introduced to all these different possibilities they can pursue later as careers helps ignite their interest in these fields. This is one of the pivotal experiences for many of our students.”
Through events like these, USACE, Ashley Hall and other federal agencies are driving a positive change in the engineering landscape. By cultivating a diverse and inclusive environment that supports young girls in exploring their passions, they are nurturing tomorrow’s engineers, innovators, and leaders, ensuring a future where gender disparities in STEM are a thing of the past.