More than 100 middle school students spent a day on campus combining their love of art with a growing love for science, technology, engineering and math fields.
The girls, all participants in the Art2STEM program, spent their time working with rapid prototyping, design, biology and Lego robotics. Students used the rapid prototyping lab to print 3D models of their creations, linking afterschool club meetings about computer-aided design to authentic manufacturing processes.
They competed to create the best decoration of an inch-high plaster hand in the rapid prototyping lab, and they left with more to decorate independently.
“We start at the middle school level and then our objective is to go up to STEM fields in high schools,” said Ismail Fidan, TTU professor of manufacturing and industrial technology and one of the project’s co-principal investigators. “Our first cohort is now in high school and we are seeing the progress we want. Girls really love it.”
Art2STEM, a grant-funded program now in its third year, gives girls from Davidson County a chance to investigate and learn about careers in the STEM fields, careers they may not have considered on their own.
“Many of these girls don’t have role models in their lives,” said Sydney Rogers, executive director of Alignment Nashville and the project’s principal investigator. “Over and over again, the girls tell us, ‘I wasn’t going to go to college but now I am,’ and ‘I didn’t think I could be an engineer, but now I know I can.’ We know it’s having an impact.”
The program is funded with a $1.3 million, three-year grant from the National Science Foundation to Alignment Nashville and is supported through a partnership of organizations, including Adventure Science Center, PENCIL Foundation, Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, Edvantia and TTU.
Now in its final year, the grant’s partners are hoping to drum up enough financial support to sustain Art2STEM indefinitely and to expand it. Other cities, both in Tennessee and beyond, have expressed an interest in beginning versions of the program, according to Rogers. She said she hopes to roll out the program in other metro areas to increase the number of students interested in becoming scientists and engineers.
“To attract women into the STEM pipeline, you have to do it in the fifth, sixth and seventh grades. If you don’t do that, you lose them,” said Joseph Rencis, dean of TTU’s College of Engineering and Clay N. Hixson Chair for Engineering Leadership. “Nationally, the percentage of women at the undergraduate level in engineering has been dropping, so this kind of program could help change that.”
Grant investigators are compiling and organizing feedback and data, but anecdotal evidence points to the successes of the program and its participants.