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Glitter, gluten and STEM

GLUTEN GURUS: Volunteers demonstrated the elasticity of gluten during the “Gearing Up Girls for STEM” camp on Thursday at Ivy Tech in Kokomo.

BY CAROLINE EGGERS - ceggers@perutribune.com

In two days, three dozen girls learned the science of gluten, glitter slime, object density and circuit engineering—and even the physics of launching wooden balls with a catapult—during a camp designed to introduce middle-school age girls to the possibility of a life in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).  

The FCA U.S. Transmission and Casting Women’s Group and Ivy Tech Community College partnered to host the inaugural event, “Gearing Up Girls for STEM,” at the Ivy Tech Automotive Technology Center in Kokomo.

And the camp’s creator—Tanya Foutch, an engineer at the FCA Indiana Transmission Plant in Kokomo and a FCA Women’s Group member—is already planning for next year.  

“If I could get one girl to think about STEM in a different way, then I’d be successful,” Foutch said. “And from what I’ve seen, we’ve been very successful.”

Linda Ferries, a media relations coordinator at Ivy Tech, appreciated the camp’s representation of women in STEM and their collective potential to positively influence the young girls.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for girls to have a chance to work with engineers, assembly workers and skilled tradeswomen,” Ferries said, and “to see that it is possible for them to go into these interesting and well-paid jobs that are going to become more and more available.”

About a dozen women from sundry STEM backgrounds volunteered to plan interactive learning activities for the girls at each of the two camps, split from Monday to Tuesday and from Thursday to Friday.

The middle-school age girls—who traveled from Kokomo, Logansport and even Akron, among others—received workbooks with fill-in-the-blank sections to complete at each station.

Stations include learning about muscles in the arm, sound waves, circuits, density of liquids, volume, food science, and the hardness of materials.

At the “volume” station, the girls learned how to measure objects with odd shapes in a beaker full of water. The change in the water’s volume determined the object’s volume.

At another station, the girls examined the difference between doughs with and without gluten. Gluten—which is the protein in wheat that humans cannot digest—created a sticky, almost rubber band-like texture, while the gluten-free variety could more easily be pulled apart.  

The girls learned about density by observing the way liquids with different densities stacked on top of each other. The volunteers poured alcohol, oil, water and corn syrup in a container, so the girls could visibly see the different densities.

The girls also learned about communication skills while making a peanut butter jelly sandwich and created towers out of straws.

They watched “a day in the life of” a car part, from the metal’s origin to its installation into a vehicle.  They observed how the molten aluminum is transformed into a cast part, and what role robots played in the process.

To conclude the second day of the camp, the girls learned about the science of glitter slime, and then created ice cream in a bag—“which is just fun,” Fautch said.

“It’s been fun for us to see their faces when they learn something new,” Fautch said.