Girls explore STEM career paths at Nashua South

Staff photo by Hannah LaClaire An interactive drilling display station set up at Nashua High School South for Tuesday’s Fourth annual Girls in STEM event allows students to handle some of the equipment they would use in the Construction Technology program.

NASHUA – Girl power was the focus of the day at Nashua High School South Tuesday as organizers and presenters welcomed more than 100 female students to explore the possibilities in the science, technology, engineering and math fields during the fourth annual Girls in STEM event.

The seminar, which rotates between the two Nashua public high schools each year, was created to help answer the question, “what could a tribute to girls (in STEM) look like?” according to Jennifer DeMaria, college/career development education specialist.

“We want to fuse together the exposure and the opportunity,” she said of the event, which featured more than 30 vendors from the region.

Girls in grades 8-12 had 10 minutes at each station (“like speed dating,” DeMaria said) to learn about career like 3D printing, robotics, web development and more.

Students from the Career Technical Education program also had exhibits to showcase the STEM components of the various paths, such as the science behind popcorn, as presented by the culinary arts students.

A few alumni returned to their old stomping grounds, but this time as presenters.

Rajia Abdelaziz, who graduated from Nashua North in 2012 and went on to study electrical engineering and computer science, spoke to students about her company, invisaWear.

The fashion and technology company makes “smart” jewelry, that allows the user to program up to five contacts and the police into an app, which will be activated when the pendant on the jewelry is pressed twice. The goal, Abdelaziz said, is to keep people safe.

She and co-founder Ray Hamilton launched the business about a year ago, and have since been named one of the No. 1 tech startups to watch in 2017.

She said there haven’t been a lot of women in the STEM industries, which is a shame, because “we can offer a unique perspective.”

Justin Medas, a web developer for OHO Interactive and a Nashua South alum, agreed, and said he brought Kelly O’Foran, a web designer with him, to help show the young students some of the abilities that women in STEM have.

Medas said he felt “eager to be a part of (the event),” and set up a few tools like legos and drawing paper to help “lead them through how you might interface from a client to the web.”

His own experiences in the STEM programs at Nashua South “set me so far ahead of my classmates” in college, he said, and encouraged some of the younger kids to take advantage of the opportunities now.

With STEM and STEAM (STEM plus the arts) fields rapidly advancing, the careers that some of these students will be entering upon graduation do not even exist yet, said Marianna Dustin, co-director of the CTE program.

She and director Amanda Bastoni believe that these programs can help put students “ahead of the curve,” and while Dustin said she feels that all students should be focused on equally, “there’s a national focus on getting young women to look at science,” due to the gender ratio being historically skewed, she said.

“A lot of girls don’t feel empowered to take that option,” Cynthia Harrington, a representative from the New Hampshire High Tech Council and TechWomen TechGirls committee said.

“We need to give them the confidence today to plan for the future.”

The way to do that, she said, is to build the excitement around the exploration of STEM while they are still in high school, through events like the one on Tuesday.

“We need to encourage the girls,” she said.

One girl who said she felt encouraged by the attempts to get girls interested in the sciences was Jenna Caradonna, a junior in the computer networking program.

“When you hear about computer science and engineering, you think science, but I learned about how you can connect that to things like art and history, too,” she said, referring to the presentation by Aoibri Information Integration.

Shanoah Savard, a sophomore and Brenna Prince and Emi McDonald, both juniors, said there were too many choices to pick a favorite from the day.

The three girls are all involved in video production at the school, and Prince said she thought it was interesting to see the different subjects that could help her out with video production in the future.

“I didn’t even know some of this exists,” she said.

McDonald said she enjoyed the “big interactive event,” and that it was amazing to realize that within just a few years, “I could literally be doing this.”

“It really opened my eyes to see I have plenty of options,” she said.

Hannah LaClaire can be reached at 594-1243 or hlaclaire@nashuatelegraph.com.