COMETS program for middle school girls begins in March; new STEM initiative
COMETS (COURSES ON MATH, ENGINEERING, TECHNOLOGY, AND SCIENCE) PROVIDES ONLINE CAREER MENTORING FOR MIDDLE SCHOOL FEMALES.
10:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., Saturday, March 23
A new Penn State New Kensington program, Courses on Math, Engineering, Technology, and Science, also known as COMETS, begins in March to provide online career mentoring for middle school females.
The initiative targets seventh- and eighth-grade girls who have an interest in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields. Volunteer mentors, drawn from Penn State alumna and friends in STEM-related professions, will share their experiences on career opportunities in their fields. In addition to mentoring, the 10-week program features guest speakers, demonstrations and projects.
“The program combines an on-line mentoring program with hands-on presentations in a wide range of STEM fields,” said Debra Novak, coordinator of STEM programs at the campus. “The mentors will provide new perspectives on their careers, as well as perspectives on other STEM careers for the girls.”
The inaugural COMETS Camp is set from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 23, at the campus. The camp is the hands-on portion of the program. Presentations will be conducted by Engineering Ambassadors, a Penn State University Park student organization that motivates grade-school students to challenge conventional ideas about science and engineering. The middle school participants will form teams to create a roller coaster or design a prosthetic device.
“This is a great opportunity for the girls to interact with college students who are currently enrolled in engineering majors,” said Novak, who earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of Pittsburgh. “The students will be able to ask questions about college classes, majors, and possible industries that involves engineering.”
Thirty-three students from five public school districts, Burrell, Kiski Area , Leechburg, New Kensington/Arnold, and Plum, and a private school, Mary Queen of Apostles in New Kensington, will participate in the inaugural program. Eighteen mentors will be assigned students and will hold weekly online sessions of 20-30 minutes with their mentees.
STEM is a statewide effort dedicated to preparing Pennsylvania students for global competitiveness through a strategy of enhanced education and career development opportunities. The initiatives are designed to increase the number of students, especially females, minorities and the underrepresented, in the STEM fields.
The seed for the COMETS program was planted in 2010 when the campus hosted the “Women in STEM Symposium.” More than 300 high school females attended the event that featured a panel discussion on career possibilities for women in STEM-related fields. The panelists, Sara Sibenaller, software engineer for Philips Respironics Inc, Renee Leroy, research engineer for the Penn State Electro-Optics Center and a Penn State New Kensington graduate, and Amy Peters, senior bioassay scientist for Thermo Fisher Scientific, extolled the different perspectives that women can bring to these traditionally male-dominated fields. They advised the audience to take advantage of internships at local companies to gain experience in their prospective vocations.
Novak, who joined the campus community in October, coordinates the campus’ four STEM programs -- Kids in College, Green Environmental Challenge for Kids Outreach (GECKO), STEM Academy and COMETS. Her responsibilities include increasing the interest of grade-school students in the four core disciplines critical to the development of technological innovations. She develops and manages STEM initiatives by bringing together representatives from the campus, local school districts and regional industries. The initiatives are geared to elementary and secondary students.
Kids in College, celebrating its 25th year in June, is a summer program that combines hands-on activities and STEM camps for students in grades one to 12. The STEM-related classes include courses like " Daring Designs" where students draw scale plans for a bedroom or game room using a scientific perspective and "Rocketry" class, which is an opportunity for students to build their own model rockets and launch them. Kids in College is sponsored by the Grable Foundation.
The two-year GECKO program allows freshman and sophomore education and science majors at the campus to share lessons with local students, from kindergarten to the eighth grade, in Allegheny, Armstrong and Westmoreland county school districts. GECKO is supported by a grant from the Buhl Foundation.
STEM Academy targets high school students. The program provides dual-enrollment courses that are focused on STEM majors. Students are given options for courses that can be taken at the New Kensington campus.
“The academy provides students with the advantages of earning college credits while in high school and exploring a career path that is STEM-related," said Novak, who teaches English as a second language in the Burrell School District. “It also provides an opportunity for high school teachers to work with campus faculty to develop the talents of college-bound and workforce-bound students whose career interests will require advanced knowledge of STEM areas.”
The campus’ four STEM projects complement Novak’s charge to coalesce interdisciplinary teams of grade school teachers and administrators, higher education students and faculty, and industry representatives to determine the best approach to STEM literacy in the region.
“STEM-related growth is expected to expand immensely in the near future for the Alle-Kiski Valley,” said Novak, who lives in Lower Burrell with her husband and four children. “Our programs are directed at introducing and supporting the necessary pathways for students in our area districts for success in STEM jobs.”
For more information, contact Novak at firstname.lastname@example.org via email.
Panelists discuss career possibilities for women in STEM-related fields at the "Women in STEM' symposium.
From left to right, Sara Sibenaller, software engineer for Philips Respironics Inc, Renee Leroy, research
engineer for Penn State Electro-Optics Center and a Penn State New Kensington graduate, and Amy Peters,
senior bioassay scientist for Thermo Fisher Scientific extolled the different perspectives that women can bring
to these traditionally male-dominated fields.They advised the audience to take advantage of internships at local
companies to gain experience in their prospective vocations.