Lincoln Junior High Girls and IVCCs Middle School Programs Featured at Calif. Conference

Girls from Lincoln Junior High impressed a group of college educators at a national conference held in California.

Perhaps even more impressive, they did so by communicating through a state-of-the-art internet-based video link from their school in LaSalle.

Through the video link, the girls answered questions about their activities in a project sponsored by Illinois Valley Community College and funded through a National Science foundation grant.

Four IVCC professors and a Lincoln Junior High teacher were in San Francisco January 6 - 7, 2011 at the Information and Communication Technologies Conference and led the presentation about a series of activities designed to increase the Lincoln girls’ interest in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM.

"I felt very excited talking live to California, and I am very happy to be in STEM," said Yvette Escatel. "STEM is awesome!"

Kristen Williams said: "The conference was really cool to be in because I was thinking all these people are going to think ‘Wow,’ these girls have gone so far in the STEM group. I was thinking that people…think of me as a girl who can try her hardest to get somewhere in life."

Yvette Lopez said: "It made me feel good about myself….that we can do what anyone else can, and…that people are interested in what we are doing."

And to Stephanie Soto, "it felt awesome. I felt like a celebrity."

According to the college educators who attended the presentation, the girls’ interest in the STEM program was obvious.

"I was impressed by the girls’ excitement in the program," said one of the conference organizers.

Another conference participant said, "I'm going to try to see if I can get something similar going at my daughter's public K-12 charter school.  There's so much you have done that is so very inspiring."

According to Lincoln Junior High science teacher John Fusinatto, who was with the girls during the presentation, "The energy level in our room at Lincoln was phenomenal."

"The girls were so excited to share their thoughts about an activity with people thousands of miles away in real time," said Fusinatto, who co-leads the activities. "Their sense of accomplishment was huge."

The girls participating in the activities, 25 last year and 23 this year, call themselves the STEM girls, but they put their own spin on the acronym that typically stands for science, technology, engineering and math. They are a Smart Team where Everyone Matters, a name they created and one which appears on their t-shirts; they wore those shirts for the video presentation. Melissa Delgado, a seventh grader, and Cynthia Delgado, now at freshman at LaSalle-Peru High School, designed the logo for those shirts.

The STEM girls participate in on-going, hands-on activities such as building and programming robots, extracting DNA, making diodes, disassembling and reassembling computers, and exploring forensic science through blood splatter testing.

IVCC faculty deliver the activities which are scheduled during the girls’ regular classes and after school, with some at Lincoln Junior High and some on the IVCC campus.

"Our NSF STEM program has empowered these young girls on a scale I could never have imagined," said IVCC biology professor Sue Caley Opsal, who heads the middle school activities in IVCC’s National Science Foundation grant. She was at the conference leading the presentation.

"To have the opportunity to encourage girls to explore areas that are traditionally  ‘male-dominated’ has been a wonderful experience," she continued.   "I never expected how much these girls would touch our lives."

Also at the San Francisco conference were IVCC professors Dorene Perez, Program Coordinator of CAD/CAE and Principal Investigator on the NSF grant; Jim Gibson, Program Coordinator of Electronics and a co-Principal Investigator; Rose Marie Lynch, communications instructor and a co-Principal Investigator; and Lincoln Junior High science teacher Kristi Eager, who co-leads the Lincoln activities with Fusinatto.

"This was a tremendous opportunity for everyone that has worked with our STEM girls’ project," said Eager.

LaSalle Elementary School Superintendent Daniel Marenda called the STEM program and the girls’ participation in the conference "what education can and should be."

He added, "Through the use of technology, and thanks to dedicated teachers at Lincoln and IVCC, our students were able to have a real world experience while participating in a conference that was teaching other teachers how to be more effective."

A number of Lincoln students who are not part of the STEM girls’ project watched the live video feed, including Jan Fusinatto’s seventh and eighth grade social studies classes and Mary Jo Gillman’s eighth grade resource and science classes.

Soon the girls will be able to watch themselves since their participation in the conference was recorded and will be made available online through the National Science Foundation centers which sponsored the conference.

Conference organizers commended the IVCC/Lincoln team for being the first to utilize the state-of-the-art video link technology provided through the information and communication technology conference. One of the conference participants has also asked Caley Opsal to host a webinar on recruiting women into STEM disciplines.

The STEM girls’ activities are part of a three-year $520,000 National Science Foundation grant IVCC received in 2008 to increase the number of people who prepare for careers in engineering technology.