In a classroom at Kennesaw State University on Monday, clusters of middle school girls were rigging up habitats for yet-to-be-hatched milkweed bugs.
In another classroom just a few feet away, girls were graphing the distance of an air trolley. Others were watching an electrostatics demonstration, or digging into the history of women in math. And farther out, in the lobby, an astronaut held court.
Girls’ Adventures in STEM, co-sponsored by the Georgia Department of Education on March 24 at Kennesaw State University and at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College on March 26, gave middle school girls from all over Georgia the chance to explore science, technology, engineering and math through up-close, hands-on demonstrations.
On hand at each event was Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger, who gave the girls a glimpse of the wide-open career possibilities available through STEM pursuits. Metcalf-Lindenburger gave talks throughout the day, but she also mingled with students in the lobby between presentations, patiently lining up for photos with group after group of smartphone-wielding students. She answered each of their questions carefully: Did you ever get tired of floating around? When did you know for sure you wanted to be an astronaut? Did anyone ever say you couldn’t do it?
Metcalf-Lindenburger dreamed in third grade of being an astronaut, she told the girls, and she was in middle school herself when she knew for sure it was the path she wanted to take. It was the time of Kathryn Sullivan, the first American woman to walk in space – a time when it became abundantly clear that girls could do whatever they wanted to do, on earth or above it.
“I realized that science could take you places,” Metcalf-Lindenburger said on Monday, remembering those days. “That it could solve problems that were important to solve.”
Throughout the day, the astronaut painted a picture of all the places science could take these girls. She recounted the experience of launching into the atmosphere in April 2010, with all the thunderous firing of engines and all the swirling of space. She told them about playing baseball and preparing sushi in space. She described seeing the earth from overhead: the craters and lakes of the Pacific Northwest, Houston, South America, Africa, Australia, multiple sunrises and sunsets flashing across the surface.
The message was simple and crucial: Science can be fun. Science can take you places.
In the lobby between sessions, you could see the girls passing their cellphones from hand to hand, laughing raucously and swapping stories, as middle school students do. But if you leaned in to hear the conversations, something was different: They were talking about the experiments they’d done in each session, about science and technology and the stories they’d heard from space.
When Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger was in middle school, science gave her a look at the future. This week, girls across Georgia got the same glimpse.