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KNOXVILLE – It was a day full of intellectual girl power, as University of Tennessee, Knoxville, women faculty, staff, and students worked with girl scouts in hands-on activities in the life sciences, physical sciences, engineering, and mathematics disciplines. The faculty, staff, and students were role models for the girls, illustrating that there are no barriers to girls’ success in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professions.

On Saturday, April 9, 150 middle school girls, grades six through eight, came to UT Knoxville campus to participate in the first “Gadget Girl Adventures in STEM” program, designed to introduce young girls to the excitement and discovery of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines.

Throughout the day, participants used some scientific investigation “gadgets,” such as the electron microscope, diffraction glasses, and computer modeling programs, to learn about the world around them. Experiments included examining sediment that was taken from a mastodon excavation in New York, growing crystals from Borax household cleaner, and extracting their own DNA, to name a few.

A number of volunteers from the Kappa Delta Sorority’s Alpha Epsilon Chapter escorted the girls and their chaperones to the various activities held around campus that day.

“This program allowed us to work hands-on in mentoring young women in our community and promoting good values like confidence and education, which are core values in our chapter,” said Mackenzie Van Dam, vice president for community service for the Kappa Delta Sorority.

At the end of the day, the girls were presented with Gadget Girl patches documenting their accomplishments. The girls huddled in small groups talking excitedly about their experiences, comparing their DNA necklaces and other mementos. Girl Scout staff members Becky Lunsford and Sherry Harris said several of the Girl Scout cadets already approached them to request that the program be offered again next year.

Gladys Alexandre, associate professor in the department of biochemistry and cellular and molecular biology, planned and coordinated one of the activities in the life sciences, which involved testing the effect of hand sanitizer on bacteria.

“What I enjoyed most in organizing and leading this activity was the interaction and feedback I got from the kids. I enjoyed seeing how their curiosity was stimulated from the time they entered the room to the time they left,” Alexandre said. “They were hooked on science, asking questions and wondering about what else or what next could be done—one could feel the excitement!”

Promoting STEM education and interest in STEM careers is a shared priority of UT Knoxville and the GSCSA, where it is the number-one area of concentration in the GSCSA’s educational program.  Although most participants in the Gadget Girl Adventures in STEM were Girl Scout cadets, registration was open to any middle school girl in the council’s region.

The program was sponsored by the Girl Scout Council of the Southern Appalachians in collaboration with UT Knoxville. The educational activities were coordinated by the Office of Academic Outreach in the College of Arts and Sciences and were led by faculty and students from the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Engineering, the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, and the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS). The UT Career Services Counseling staff provided every girl with the opportunity to explore career interests in STEM.

For more information, including the names of the many UT faculty, staff, and students who volunteered for the program, visit