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STEM Fems group branches out to Evans City Middle School

| Saturday, March 8, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Sixth-grader Madeline Bunofsky mixes together a concoction to make scented stones under the instruction of teacher Stephanie Chiapusio as groupmates Elaina Mastorianni, Ashley Pelloni, Olivia Tillotson and Ashley Eury look on. The girls are part of the after-school group STEM Fems at Seneca Valley’s Evans City Middle School.
Sixth-grader Audrey Ferraro drops blue food coloring into the as fifth-graders Mia Chevellier and Mackenzie Mill observe. The girls mixed red and blue food coloring together to make a purple color that matched their shirts.
Ashley Pelloni and Madeline Bunofsky watch closely as teacher Stephanie Chiapusio helps mix their scented stones dough together.
Fifth-grader Alyssa Webb (back to camera) discusses how much food coloring to add to their scented stones mixture with classmates Mia Chevellier and Mackenzie Mill. The girls are part of the after-school group STEM Fems at Seneca Valley’s Evans City Middle School.

About 45 girls gathered in the Evans City Middle School cafeteria after school to make scented stones used for aromatherapy using everyday cooking ingredients — flour, salt, food coloring and essential oils.

Working in groups of four to six, the aspiring scientists, mathematicians and engineers in grades five and six discussed how to multiply a single recipe to fit the number of girls in their groups and began adding ingredients into mixing bowls.

“It's been really interesting seeing how all the ingredients mix together and how ordinary kitchen ingredients can be combined to make new things,” said fifth-grader Ashley Pelloni.

The girls are part of STEM Fems, a group that began last year in Seneca Valley Middle School to encourage young ladies who are interested in science, technology, engineering and math — or STEM.

The group branched out this year to include a chapter at Evans City Middle School, said Evans City Principal Marie Palano.

“I wanted to meet new people. I really like science and doing experiments, and being able to make things out of different components,” said sixth-grader Elaina Mastorianni.

Alyssa Webb, a fifth-grader, said she'd really like to see more women in typically male-dominated science, engineering and math fields.

“I think women can do whatever men can,” Alyssa said. “Just because men are generally engineers doesn't mean women can't be, too.”

Women are underrepresented in STEM careers. Groups like STEM Fems help break down barriers for girls to get interested in the fields, said Colleen Smith, outreach coordinator at the Penn State Electro-Optics Center, a university research facility in Freeport.

As a leader of regional support group Female Alliance STEM Excellence, Smith has helped STEM Fems get off the ground by connecting the group to community resources and training.

Led by middle school teachers Crystal Zinkham, Sarah Kamarchik, Lisa McCombs, Stephanie Chiapusio and Palano, STEM Fems began meeting once a month in January doing activities regarding the chemistry of cosmetics. In April, a female engineer from Mine Safety Appliances and a professor from the University of Pittsburgh plan to visit and talk to the girls about their jobs.

Palano said it's important to get girls involved at a young age so they know what opportunities and options exist in STEM fields.

It's also important for the girls to interact with women in STEM careers to give them role models and see them as relatable.

“Girls need to connect with women to see that not only are women doing these things, but that they're like them, too,” Smith said.

Rachel Farkas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-779-6902 or rfarkas@tribweb.com.

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