Michelle Cottongim hopes her passion for STEM will rub off on the girls she teaches.
For the second year, the engineering/technology teacher at Cartersville Middle School is heading up Women in STEM, a program designed for eighth-grade girls who are interested in careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“My hope is that through our group, the girls are inspired and encouraged to learn more about STEM content, skills and career paths, possibly leading to a very rewarding and fulfilling career for their future,” she said, noting she gets recommendations for members from their past and current teachers. “I have an engineering degree, worked in an engineering field, taught math for 12 years, and I am currently the engineering and technology teacher at CMS, so you could say STEM is a passion of mine. To be able to share that passion with some of the young ladies at my school is a privilege.”
The group, which has 28 members and has invited two other girls to join, started at CMS three years ago when Diane Sakmar and Tanya Hyman from the Cartersville-Bartow American Association of University Women approached then-Principal Jeff Hogan about starting a group for “eighth-grade young ladies interested in science and math,” Cottongim said.
Then-science teacher Amy Archer was asked to organize and lead the group, which she did for two years. During that time, the AAUW paid for the girls to attend the monthly Lunch and Learn programs at Tellus Science Museum and other field trips.
When Archer moved to Cartersville High School last year, Cottongim was asked to take over as the group’s sponsor.
“I was very excited about this opportunity to be able to enrich young ladies’ lives in the areas of STEM and help them possibly discover a new area of interest that might impact their future career choices,” she said, noting she added monthly meetings to the group’s list of activities last year.
Calixte Neveah Walls, 13, said she wanted to be part of Women in STEM because of her lifelong love of science.
“I have always had an obsession with the sciences and wanted to be in a club that revolves around it,” she said. “I really love the technological/biological science aspect of it. I have loved those sciences and have had a knack for them since I was young.”
Mary Knox Dawson, also 13, said she wanted to “bring my knowledge of STEM to the next level.”
“I like how STEM is challenging women to do difficult tasks and to problem-solve,” she said.
Cottongim is anticipating a busy, fun year for the group, which is co-sponsored by AAUW and Tellus.
“I am looking forward to working with these girls this year, and I am very excited about all of the STEM activities we have planned for them,” she said. “We have planned more activities than ever before, giving this group some great opportunities related to the areas of STEM.”
The members had their first meeting of the 2017-18 school year last week and met again Monday to print their own group T-shirts, designed by member Trinity Atkins.
“We had a design contest this year and let the girls vote on the design that they wanted to use, and hers won,” Cottongim said.
The group usually will meet after school just once a month for an hour to work on engineering design challenges, explore STEM careers and hear guest speakers.
It will have extra meetings through November, however, so the girls can participate in the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics’ YouthAstroNet project with Tellus astronomer David Dundee.
YouthAstroNet is a research project that will create a nationwide online learning community for students in grades 5-8 and their teachers, parents and caregivers that features remotely controlled online telescopes from the astrophysics center and complementary curricula, according to the center’s website.
Cottongim has planned for the group to attend the All Things Gravity Lunch and Learn today and the Put the “T” in STEM Lunch and Learn Nov. 15 as well as field trips to the Maker Faire in Atlanta and to the Carlos Museum at Emory University.
“I made the choices based on eighth-grade content standards, recommendations from the ladies in AAUW and how an activity/trip relates to STEM and STEM careers,” she said.
Mary, who wants to be an aerospace engineer, said she is most looking forward to the YouthAstroNet program.
“There are some hands-on activities and projects to challenge you,” she said.
Calixte said she is excited about the field trip to the Maker Faire.
“I love to explore different shops/activities,” she said, noting she either wants to be a zoologist or a graphic designer for Microsoft.