Young girls learn science, engineering, at Niskayuna program

'The whole idea is just to expose more young girls to math and science'
Adelyn Farrell, left, and Sara Mongelli watch their drone at the Engineering Institute for Women at Niskayuna High School.
Adelyn Farrell, left, and Sara Mongelli watch their drone at the Engineering Institute for Women at Niskayuna High School.

The small drone rose and dipped inside the media center at Niskayuna High School.

Sara Mongelli and her team controlled the flying machine.

“It’s fun to do and it’s really about codes,” said Mongelli, 13, who will begin eighth grade this fall at Iroquois Middle School. “You code the drone to do certain commands, like flipping and stuff.”

Bunches of drones hummed inside the media room, which sounded more like a bee hive Thursday morning. Thirty-eight girls were learning science and engineering techniques at Niskayuna’s sixth Engineering Institute for Young Women.

Their assignments: Use technology to prevent an imaginary, fast-moving disease from spreading into the eastern portion of the United States.

“The girls who come out of this course are going to have a set of skills that varies across engineering and computer science that is going to allow them to take off from here,” said Frank Adamo, an English teacher and program coach. “It’s a springboard to a set of skills that we don’t always see in our strict academic settings.”

The summer program is designed for girls entering grades seven through nine who are interested in science and engineering technology. Science kids have built flashing light circuit boards and pressure sensors. They’ve worked with hydraulic arms.

“The whole idea is just to expose more young girls to math and science and to pique that interest to increase those numbers going forward in the field,” said Tom Delancey, a high school chemistry teacher and another program coach.

Another idea is that if the United States faces a genuine crisis in the future and needs scientists and engineers, Mongelli and her friends will be prepared to help out — for real.

“We can create stuff on our own and use it,” said Adelyn Farrell, 13, who also will enter the eighth grade at Iroquois in September. She is already looking ahead to the late 2020s. “I want to be a nanoscientist,” she said.

Girls worked at “white boards” — marking equations and information — and punched codes into laptop computers.

“It’s just a fun way to express yourself when you’re more into science instead of sports,” said Ellie Grossman, 13, another Iroquois student. “It’s a good way to learn about different things.”

A little social comes with the science. Girls working in teams made plenty of conversation.

“You learn new things and we get to know people we don’t know as much and our friends at the same time,” said Olivia Defazzio, 13, also at Iroquois.

Josie Beltramo, 13, who will be in Van Antwerp Middle School’s eighth grade this fall, welcomed the new subjects.

“These aren’t necessarily things we get to learn when we’re in school, so it’s nice to have a place to do this while we’re still young,” Beltramo said. “It’s good to have an opportunity to start these things early.”

The girls said they liked the challenges that come with the week-long course. Instructors said answers and solutions have not come easily; many girls have opted for extra time, showing up just after 8 a.m. for a class that starts at 8:30.

“One of the best indicators of long-term success is short-term failure,” Adamo told his group on Thursday.

Success for the girls means success for the instructors.

“I am showing things to girls they haven’t done before,” said Deborah Lee, who teaches technology to seventh- and eighth-grade students. “They’re taking it and using it and doing something new with it.

“You can’t force invention, that just happens,” Lee added. “But you can give them the tools to ignite the spark to make them invent later. So we’re giving them all the tools now.”

Contact Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at [email protected].

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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