Pro­gram men­tors girls

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NOTHWEST ARKANSAS - MELISSA GUTE

BEN­TONVILLE — Jade Houri­gan leaned against a wall in an Amazeum stu­dio play­ing her ukulele. The fret bar lit up with all the col­ors of the rain­bow as she picked the strings, just the way she pro­grammed it.

Houri­gan, about start her fresh­man year at Ben­tonville High School, was one of five par­tic­i­pants in Amazeum’s in­au­gu­ral MakeHER Squad pro­gram, which al­lows high school girls to en­hance their STEAM skills and give them an op­por­tu­nity to men­tor younger girls.

Re­search shows girls lose in­ter­est in science, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing, art and math­e­mat­ics as early as fifth grade if they aren’t en­cour­aged and men­tored to pur­sue those fields long-term, said Shan­non Dixon, Amazeum devel­op­ment and com­mu­ni­ca­tions direc­tor.

“Not only did the Make- HER Squad girls spend time mak­ing their own projects, they spent time with our STEAM girl camps to help men­tor them along,” she said.

About 44 per­cent of full­time work­ers in the United States were women in 2016, and 25 per­cent of those were in com­puter and math­e­mat­i­cal oc­cu­pa­tions and 14 per­cent in ar­chi­tec­tural and en­gi­neer­ing oc­cu­pa­tions, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Bureau of

La­bor and Sta­tis­tics.

Amazeum staff asked the five MakeHER par­tic­i­pants at the be­gin­ning of the sum­mer to cre­ate what­ever they wanted from scratch.

“We didn’t re­ally hold any­thing back from them,” said Ja­son Quail, an Amazeum em­ployee who worked with the pro­gram par­tic­i­pants. “If they wanted to do some­thing, we tried to find a way to do it.”

Projects in­cluded a man­nequin mir­ror, a book­case shaped like a rocket ship, a fish bowl ta­ble, a cac­tus-in­spired ta­ble and the unique ukulele. Par­tic­i­pants showed off their projects in a science fair-type set­ting to their fam­i­lies and a few ed­u­ca­tors Mon­day.

Houri­gan plays the ukulele and said she thought it would be cool to build one.

“I didn’t want just a nor­mal ukulele,” she said. “I wanted to add my own spin on it.”

Houri­gan, who came into the pro­gram with no elec­tronic or cod­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, built the in­stru­ment from a kit and cus­tom­ized her fret bar us­ing a laser cut­ter so the col­ors of the LED lights could be seen. She pro­grammed a cir­cuit so a mini mi­cro­phone trans­lated the sound of the strings to the lights.

“I feel very ac­com­plished,” Houri­gan said of her fi­nal piece.

Her par­ents, Erica and Nick Houri­gan, said they were very pleased with their daugh­ter’s handiwork.

“She built that whole thing. I was re­ally amazed and proud of her,” Erica Houri­gan said. “It was all her. I think that gave her con­fi­dence. I’m glad she got this op­por­tu­nity.”

Get­ting into the pro­gram was like ap­ply­ing for a job, Quail said. Those in­ter­ested filled out an ap­pli­ca­tion, in­ter­viewed and made sure they could at­tend sev­eral manda­tory meet­ings as well as sched­ule time to work on their project with staff mem­bers.

Most par­tic­i­pants worked an av­er­age of 15 hours a week through­out the sum­mer on their project. Some weeks saw more hours and girls could also work on their projects at home, Quail said.

Par­tic­i­pants were ex­posed to tools not usu­ally avail­able at schools or in homes, such as a laser cut­ter and a com­puter-con­trolled cut­ting ma­chine.

MakeHER Squad girls also worked along­side Amazeum’s ed­u­ca­tion team dur­ing its week-long Girls STEAM Camp this sum­mer. The Squad girls spoke about their projects and their creation process to campers ages 6 to 11. “I’ve al­ways loved science a lot, but it’s per­ceived as a male thing. I wanted to let girls know it’s not just a guy thing, girls can do it too,” Houri­gan said.

A grant from Cog­nizant’s Mak­ing the Fu­ture Ed­u­ca­tion ini­tia­tive paid for the MakeHER Squad and Girls’ STEAM Camp.

Amazeum’s 11 “cu­rios­ity fa­cil­i­ta­tors” were also rec­og­nized at the event. The fa­cil­i­ta­tors’ job is to cre­ate an ex­cep­tional guest ex­pe­ri­ence by op­er­at­ing “pop-up ac­tiv­i­ties and demon­stra­tions” through­out the mu­seum.

The fa­cil­i­ta­tors were from nine area high schools. This was the first sum­mer the mu­seum em­ployed cu­rios­ity fa­cil­i­ta­tors.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK

Jade Houri­gan of Ben­tonville High School dis­plays Mon­day a light-up ukulele dur­ing a cel­e­bra­tion for stu­dents who par­tic­i­pated in the MakeHER Squad pro­grams at the Amazeum in Ben­tonville. The squad par­tic­i­pated in in-depth learn­ing and pro­duc­tion in science, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and math fields. Each par­tic­i­pant cre­ated a unique project dur­ing the sum­mer pro­gram.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK

Maggi Houri­gan, 6, uses the Bird Beak Buf­fet on Mon­day with its cre­ator Re­becca Vukin, a grad­u­ate of Ben­tonville High School, dur­ing a cel­e­bra­tion for stu­dents who par­tic­i­pated in the MakeHER Squad pro­grams at the Amazeum in Ben­tonville. The squad par­tic­i­pated in in-depth learn­ing and pro­duc­tion in science, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and math fields. Each par­tic­i­pant cre­ated a unique project dur­ing the sum­mer pro­gram.

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