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Girl Scouts spend day off school having fun with science

Girl Scouts from ChicagolNorthwest Indianlisten closely during National Engineers Week program NIPSCO NiScource corporate headquarters Merrillville Monday Feb. 18 2013.

Girl Scouts from Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana listen closely during a National Engineers Week program at NIPSCO and NiScource corporate headquarters in Merrillville Monday Feb. 18, 2013. Girls were introduced to opportunities in engineering and engaged in fun activities during the event. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 19, 2013 9:19AM



MERRILLVILLE — It was President’s Day, a day off school, but about 100 girls in second through sixth grades spent part of Monday tackling an assignment that tested their engineering and math skills, as well as their creativity.

The girls, members of the Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana Girl Scouts, participated in a first-time event to Introduce a Girl to Engineering hosted by Northern Indiana Public Service Co. and organized by the Developing and Advancing Women at NiSource (DAWN).

DAWN is a women’s affinity group at NiSource, NIPSCO’s parent company. The event was held at the utility company’s Merrillville headquarters as part of National Engineering Week.

It primarily drew scouts from Northwest Indiana, but some girls came from Illinois communities including Country Club Hills, Orland Park, Matteson and Inverness.

The scouts’ assignment: To put together an object that will hold a bag of Hershey Kisses.

Their tools: Water bottle, styrofoam cup, pipe cleaners, straws, cardboard and foam.

Their helpers: Female NIPSCO engineers.

At one table, a group of girls from Hammond and Griffith made a submarine on skis, a skier named Bob or a Girl Scout trophy on skis, depending on the scout you ask.

“It was the first thing I thought of,” said Haley Meyer, 8, a student at Wadsworth Elementary School in Griffith, who called it a submarine.

Meyer said the straws placed at the bottom of the cup looked like skis, the middle portion looked like a person and the water bottle on top looked like a submarine.

But Morgan Fornaciari, 8, a student at Hess Elementary in Hammond, thought it looked more like a skiing Girl Scout trophy. She added a breast cancer ribbon to the skier, among other decorative touches.

They were assisted by Abby Frank, 7, Justine Bohn, 9, and Aylona Hillard, 7, all students at Wadsworth Elementary, and NIPSCO engineer Natalie Conlon.

At another table, NIPSCO engineer Kelly Hays watched as Emma Waller, 9, and sister Claire Waller, 6, of Lake Prairie Elementary School in Lowell, took over their project.

“I’ve done very little,” Hays said as the Waller pointed out the pipe cleaner antenna on top, along with the arms and hands.

Another group decorated their project with hearts and diamonds, and another took on a more difficult task, making a cooling tower and generator like the ones NIPSCO has. The water bottle was the generator and the cup filled with Kisses was the cooling tower.

Following the assignment, the scouts toured NIPSCO’s electric and natural gas dispatching centers, had a hands-on demonstration on electric generation with a hand crank, saw parts used in generating systems and listened as some female engineers at NIPSCO talked about what they do and how they decided to become engineers.

“This gives (the girls) a chance to invent something, to see if they have an interest in engineering or technology,” said NiSource’s Violet Sistovaris of the first-time event.

Vicki King, director of new business ventures and alliances with the Girl Scouts, said the participating scouts primarily included local troops’ Science, Technology and Mathematics (STEM) teams and Lego Robotics teams.

“Everything here is experiential. This is not school. It’s fun, but it sparks their interest at the same time,” King said.

She believes girls who get engaged in engineering at a young age tend to continue to like engineering as the become adults. To that end, the Girl Scouts are planning to lower the age at which scouts can get involved in STEM to 5 from the current age 9.



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