Corning hosts local Girl Scout troops for STEM workshops

Corning hosts Girl Scout troops for STEM workshops

Fran, a Corning employee, opened a two-inch binder brimming with a categorized collection of past years’ Girl Scout STEM events and excitedly began describing the most recent program she organized in April at Corning’s Headquarters. 

While talking, she often referred to a pile of spreadsheets printed on larger-than-average-sized paper placed beside the binder on her desk as well as to the several PowerPoint presentations—full of pictures— she had open on desktop behind her. 

Because it is her fourth year as chair of the annual event, Fran has lots of experience working with young girls considering STEM careers. Thirty years as an engineer at Corning, 10 years a Girl Scout and 20 as a scout troop leader help, too. 

“This event combines two of my lifelong passions,” she said, explaining the Girl Scouts of NYPENN Pathways partner with the Twin Tier’s section of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). “It’s the perfect marriage for me to organize it.” 

After inviting more than 50 scouts from 16 troops in nine counties, Fran began planning workshops—different each year—and breaking the participants into two age groups, while at the same time finding at least 20 volunteers to run the workshops and panels.   

“The event connects girls with role models,” said Fran, adding women lead all the day’s events.  

For scouts in fourth and fifth grade, the program featured four 30-minute hands-on activities:  building and testing marble roller coasters, exploring the benefits of assembly-line manufacturing with mini Lego cars, learning how aggregates provide strength to asphalt by making a cookie road and disassembling a digital alarm clock to learn how it works in a multi-disciplined reverse engineering activity.

Scouts in grades 6-12 participated in two 60-minute activities.  In a chemistry activity, the girls separated water ions using a battery and tested the PH of resulting compounds. They also programmed an EV3 robot in a hands-on robotics activity. 

“Giving the girls experiences that they may not otherwise encounter may encourage some to take up the challenge to enter a male-dominated field and someday level the playing field for women,” said Irene, an employee who led the robotics activity. 

"It is important for us to support STEM, and STEM education, as they are vital to the future of our company – as well as to the future of the country and our planet."

Shivani, a Corning employee, said the hand-on activities gave the Girl Scouts a different approach to science than they may get in school. 

“They were saying, ‘I wish my teacher did this,’” said Shivani, the leader of the chemistry activity for the older group.  

Members of the Notre Dame robotics team hosted a robotics session in the middle of the younger girls’ four sessions, while SWE led a STEM career panel for the older scouts, Fran said. 

“The panel was led by women who have all recently joined the workforce,” said Fran, who has been a member of SWE for more than 20 years. “We wanted to have younger women so the girls could relate more.” 

In previous years, SWE hosted the event on Corning Community College’s campus but two years ago moved it to headquarters, Fran said. Nineteen of the 23 volunteers work for Corning, she added. 

Linda Jolly, vice president and corporate secretary, said Corning needs a STEM-educated workforce to keep its global leadership and competitive position. 

“It is important for us to support STEM, and STEM education, as they are vital to the future of our company – as well as to the future of the country and our planet,” she said. “This annual event is a fun and engaging way to foster interest in STEM fields with girls/young women in our community.”

Gail, another Corning employee, added the event also highlights the diversity within Corning.

Although Gail—who just received a national distinguished new engineer award from SWE— could not attend this year, she said Fran had shared feedback which illustrated the girls’ interest in engineering futures.

“Corning does a great job,” she said about having women engineers in the workplace. “Looking at this event, we can say, ‘Oh yeah, we are making a difference.’ Even if they don’t go into that field, we have shown them it’s a possibility.”

This event was made possible by a Program Development Grant with the Society of Women Engineers, through a generous donation from the ExxonMobil Foundation, as well as a grant from Corning Incorporated Foundation.

After the event, the Girl Scouts filled out a reflection survey. Fran then analyzed the results to find out what went well each year. As well as rating activities, she asked the girls to provide comments.

“I learned I want to be an engineer when I grow up,” wrote one fifth grader, with another saying, “I like that [SWE] let us experiment and find things out ourselves.”

Kim, a Corning employee who ran the marble roller coaster event for the younger girls, said Fran organizes the event to illustrate hand-on approach to science, sometimes lost in school curricula.

“Fran does so much for this event,” she Kim said. “She’s done a phenomenal job.”

“The volunteers make the difference,” Fran replied. “I am thrilled they step up every year.”

As she began to clear the binder and pages off her desk to get back to work, Fran added one more thing: She’s already working on plans for next year’s event.