STEM Outreach, Design Squad Nation ignites teacher enthusiasm, impresses young minds

Design Squad NationWhen NIU alumna Peg Keiner was growing up, she took apart nearly anything she could get her hands on just to see what made it tick.

Sometimes the most interesting challenge was learning if she could put it back together.

Now, as an instructional technology coach in Oak Lawn, she remains just as enthusiastic as about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) as ever.

“I’ve always been the kind of person who wanted to take something apart and put it back together,” Keiner said. “I’ve always been encouraged to do that, from a young age all the way through high school. I want to give kids the same opportunity and encouragement that I had.”

On Monday, Aug. 27, NIU’s STEM Outreach partnered with PBS’s popular television series “Design Squad Nation” and the Illinois Girls Collaborative Project for the “Boosting Girls Interest in Engineering” seminar.

The event featured school administrators, Girl Scout leaders and STEM professionals. Those in attendance participated in hands-on activities featured on the Design Squad Nation website.

Projects included creating spin wheels and small lunar landers complete with marshmallow astronauts.

“We have to collaborate and network and really hear how we can move forward in supporting females in STEM fields,” Keiner said.

Susan Buckey, senior outreach program director for PBS’s Boston affiliate WGBH-TV, said the seminar was intended to provide local STEM professionals with resources that can be used to help positively influence girls in STEM fields and show that engineering is connected to the things that already interest them.

“The event was really about enlisting area folks who are already invested in STEM education to get them some resources from our program so that they can go out and really get girls excited about engineering,” Buckey said. “It impacts their life in just about every way.”

Pati Sievert

Pati Sievert

Pati Sievert, director of NIU’s STEM Outreach, said that it’s important to show girls how fascinating STEM fields are, especially at a young age.

“Middle school girls are making choices that will effect what they take in high school,” Sievert said. “If they don’t take the proper courses in high school, it’s harder when they get to college, so we want to catch them while they’re young.

“The event was really a success,” Sievert added. “We’re looking to offer this again when more teachers are available.”

NIU’s STEM Outreach will host its popular STEMfest from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 20, at the Convocation Center.

For more information, call (815) 753-1201 or email psievert@niu.edu.

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