Summer Bridge immerses high school girls in STEM education experiences

A week in the classrooms and laboratories of Radford University for aspiring female scientists from high schools across the state concluded with two events.

The events capped the Summer Bridge 2014 program, a residential experience focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. The participants assessed biodiversity and habitat health; investigated digital security; explored chemistry, electronics and genetics; and analyzed crime scenes while experiencing collegiate and academic life.

The Summer Bridge, hosted annually by RU’s College of Science and Technology, is a weeklong residential experience for rising sophomore, junior and senior high school girls interested in STEM disciplines. This year's program began Sunday, July 13, and concluded Friday, July 18.


Flanked by Assistant Professor of Geology Elizabeth McClellan (extreme left) and Geology Instructor George Stephenson (extreme right), the members of the 2014 Summer Bridge Geology sport rock hardhats and rock hammers after a day in the field and lab.

On Thursday, July 17, the young women traded lab smocks and hard hats for dresses and convened for a banquet in the COBE Multipurpose Room. On Friday, they presented and demonstrated the fruits of their labor before their peers and their families at a closing ceremony in McGuffey 203. 

Paula Hamel, director of Environmental Policy at Dominion Resources Services, keynoted Thursday’s banquet and reflected on the lessons of Maya Angelou’s life and her own experience as a woman in the energy industry.

“As I entered a control room one time early in my career, a man there looked at me and asked what a woman was doing in the control room. I told him I was there to point out the readings on one of his turbines and alert him to the danger of it malfunctioning. I got great satisfaction from telling him what he needed to do get things running correctly and then leave,” she said.

Hamel challenged the 81 young women to avoid distractions and get comfortable being out of their comfort zone. She pointed out the unique opportunity they had to study, work on field experiments and apply science with RU professors, teaching assistants and resident assistants.

In addition to classroom lectures and lab experiments, Summer Bridge students visited RU's Planetarium and Museum of the Earth Sciences. Students also made field trips to Mountain Lake in Giles County, the RU Selu Conservancy and to Areva, Dominion Resources and Novozymes production and research facilities.

Students attend the Summer Bridge on scholarships provided by donors and sponsors of the program. The 2014 sponsors are ATK, Areva Nuclear Power, Cliff and Donna Boyd, Dominion Resources, the Jessie Ball duPont Fund, RU Alumna Ms. Dale Lee, the Lynchburg Community Trust, Novozymes Biologicals, Harry and Zoe Poole Foundation and Upward Bound Martinsville.

“I never really knew much about robotics and programming, but now I do and I am very interested,” said Taylor Evans, a rising senior from Powhatan High School. “The energy and the atmosphere made me feel relaxed and the professors made things so relatable.”

Evans was part of the “A team” that explored electricity, worked with solar panels, bread boards and electricity among other mechanics of space exploration. From Arduino microcontrollers and Legos, the team created a remote control, wheeled vehicle that they paraded down the aisles of Friday’s closing session.

Among the more than 20 female faculty members and teaching and residential assistants who served as mentors and role models was Assistant Biology Professor Sarah O’Brien, who teamed with Mathematics and Statistics Instructor Carrie Case and Assistant Professor of Geospatial Sciences Stockton Maxwell, to host the first-ever environmental sciences session.

“As a woman, it is always great to take the girls out into the field,” she said. “They get to catch birds, get dirty and exult in exploring.”

Audrianna Donham, a junior at Bassett High School in Henry County, said, ”It’s a vast and wondrous world. There are a lot of species and I now know more about them. I think it will change the way I do things.”

Valerie Tran, a junior at Freedom High School in Loudon County, summed up the experience, saying, “It was fun learning to be creative and innovative and just getting to know one another.”

Jul 22, 2014