Inspire STEM Festival encourages young girls to pursue STEM

Girls at Inspire STEM festival

Hundreds of middle school students engaged in science workshops, checked out technology exhibits, met two NASA astronauts, and enhanced their appreciation for mathematics at UW Bothell’s third Inspire STEM Festival on March 4, 2017.

College professors and industry experts led 14 workshops on tech topics, robotics and life sciences. Twenty-five exhibitors filled the top floor of the Activities and Recreation Center, including sponsors: the WSECU credit union, Boeing, Silicon Mechanics, EvergreenHealth, Microsoft, Pacific Science Center, The Museum of Flight and Bristol-Myers Squibb. TedX Sno-Isle Libraries sponsored the astronaut keynotes.

The day-long festival on campus was designed for sixth- to eighth-grade students, with emphasis on girls from low-income families who might also become the first in their families to attend college.

“We truly believe in the STEM Festival that targets under-represented groups, especially girls. We believe in it, what they do, what they stand for and where they’re headed,” said Will Rance, WSECU vice president of community relations.

Introducing students to careers in science, technology, engineering and math was astronaut Sally Ride’s goal at the first science festival on the UW Bothell campus in 2014, said astronaut Wendy Lawrence, a keynote speaker.

“Sally’s intent was to give young kids an opportunity to see people who look like them doing cool jobs related to math, science and engineering. Sally contended, ‘You can’t be what you can’t see,’ and I think for a lot of these kids, if they don’t see somebody who looks like them doing a job in the STEM field, they just won’t think about that as an option,” said Lawrence, who flew on four space shuttle missions from 1995 to 2005.

“So today is about planting some seeds and showing kids what their opportunities are,” said Lawrence, who currently serves on the UW Bothell Advisory Board.


The other astronaut to deliver a keynote, Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger, related her audience to her own life story.

Wendy Lawrence presents to event attendees
Wendy Lawrence presents to event attendees

“For me, middle school was really fun and sometimes really difficult,” she said. As a girl, she made a model of a space shuttle, and 20 years later she was blasting off in the real vehicle. “Having a dream can keep your trajectory headed upward,” said Metcalf-Lindenburger, who flew on a 2010 shuttle mission.

The former high school science teacher who also earned a master’s in applied geology at the University of Washington loved her 15 days in space, looking down on “spaceship Earth.”

“I also love Earth and there’s stuff to get done on Earth. We are on a spaceship, and we can solve problems together as a community of Earth,” she said.

Eighth-grader Anab Omar from Mercer Middle School thought Metcalf-Lindenburger’s speech was really cool. Having a photo with her “means a lot.” Now Anab wants to go to the University of Washington. She is interested in being an astronaut. If she can’t be an astronaut, she wants to become a detective, she said. The STEM festival was inspiring to Anab because it started her thinking about what she would do next. “It shows you can do stuff when you’re younger,” Anab said.

“Libraries are about discovery and inquiry, and we’re excited to be here with UW Bothell and other wonderful organizations working to make science learning accessible for everyone,” said Susan Hempstead, strategic relations manager for Sno-Isle Libraries. “It’s great to re-connect with, and support Dottie, as she shared a big idea worth spreading about The Mars Generation at TEDxSnoIsleLibraries.”


Attendees try a hands-on experiment
Attendees try a hands-on experiment

Alyssa Voightmann revved up interest in engineering with model planes at the Boeing exhibit. “It’s incredibly important to prepare the younger generation quite early and share the experiences we’ve been able to have at Boeing for our career,” said Voightmann who earned a Master of Science in mechanical engineering from the University of Washington and serves on the UW Bothell mechanical engineering advisory board.

The UW Bothell Physics Club demonstrated electromagnetism and angular momentum among other phenomena and handed out copies of the American Physics Society comic book “Spectra,” about a girl with laser super power. “Hopefully inspiring young people to come into physics,” said club president Holly Gummelt.

“The kids get really excited,” says Peggy Brown, program manager for the event. “It really gets kids hooked, and they have a lot of fun.”