STEMS & GEMS: HMNS’ Erin Mills gives us the buzz on bugs

Editor’s Note: As part of our annual GEMS (Girls Exploring Math and Science) program happening February 21 2015, we conduct interviews with women who have pursued careers in science, technology, engineering, or math. This week, we’re featuring Erin Mills, Entomologist at the Cockrell Butterfly Center.

Erin Mills Cockrell Butterfly Center

HMNS: How old were you when you first become interested in science/technology/engineering and/or math?
Mills: I’ve been interested in Science as long as I can remember, particularly Life Science. I was always fascinated with creatures big and small.

HMNS: Was there a specific person or event that inspired you when you were younger?
Mills: 
My 7th grade Science teacher Mrs. Pierce-Mcbroom was an awesome science teacher! Picture a female Bill Nye! She had lots of exotic pets that she would bring into the classroom and she was very fun! My mother was also a huge inspiration. Whereas most moms squeal and squirm at the sight or even thought of creepy crawly creatures, they didn’t bother my mom one bit! She was fearless and encouraged me to explore the natural world and all of its residents. She was always very proud of me!

HMNS: What was your favorite science project when you were in school?
Mills: 
My mom helped me to make a mini tropical habitat. She helped me pick out plants that live in the tropics and in the end it looked beautiful! It was my first Science fair project and I got an A!

HMNS: What is your current job? How does this relate to science/technology/engineering/math?
Mills: 
As an Entomologist at the Cockrell Butterfly Center I get to work with some of the most amazing bugs from all around the world. Bugs are some of the most important organisms on the planet and my job involves a lot of educating people, young and old, about them and their importance to the ecosystem.

HMNS: What’s the best part of your job?
Mills: Getting to work with the live insects and other arthropods

HMNS: What do you like to do in your spare time?
Mills: 
Anything outdoors: hiking, walking, running, and playing with my little boy and showing him the natural world.

HMNS: What advice would you give to girls interested in pursuing a STEM career?
Mills: 
Keep your mind open to the thousands of possibilities there are with one of these careers. Ask lots of questions and learn as much as you can, and don’t be afraid or too shy to do what it takes to pursue whatever it is that interests you!

HMNS: Why do you think it’s important for girls to have access to an event like GEMS?
Mills: 
I think mentors play a huge part in helping people be successful. This event can help connect girls with mentors and that can have a tremendously positive impact on their futures!

 

Know a girl who loves science? Click here to learn more about how you can get involved with GEMS!

These students are real GEMS: Girls Exploring Math and Science

On February 21, 2015, The Houston Museum of Natural Science will celebrate our tenth year hosting Girls Exploring Math and Science (GEMS)!

GEMS highlights student projects covering science, technology, engineering and math. It aims to increase interest in STEM through student presented projects, and highlight possible STEM careers as represented by our Community Booths.

We had quite a turn out last year, and we are lucky enough to offer awards to the top student projects as selected by STEM professionals. Here’s a story from two groups that won prizes at GEMS 2014!

GEMS winners 3Girl Scout Troop 21318 represented two booths in GEMS – “Any way the wind blows” and “A look into Optics.” The girls were excellent at explaining their projects to both young visitors as well as professionals visiting their booths. “Any way the wind blows” was presented by Josie Blackburn and Tiffany Bridges, and they took a look at wind energy and its effects on the environment. They discussed the many ways that wind energy is used from wind mills to paragliding, and they even had a windmill generator to demonstrate wind power in action! Hannah Cox, Hanna Gano and Qiwei Li also presented at GEMS last year, but their project took on a different focus! In their project, “A look into Optics,” the girls used a laser to show how different lenses affect the focus on the retina of the eye. The girls showed other ways lenses are used outside of our eye, like with telescopes and binoculars. It was a really eye-opening project!

GEMS winners 1 GEMS winners 2

Both groups from Girl Scout Troop 21318 won prizes for their STEM projects! We caught up with them a few months after GEMS to see how they used their winnings. Blackburn, Bridges, Li, Gano and Cox chose to give half of their winnings back to their school, Glenda Dawson High School. They wanted to give back to the people who had helped them with ideas and supplies – a great way to continue STEM education!

They used the rest of their winnings to take an educational trip to HMNS! They went on a docent tour of the Magna Carta Exhibit to see the infamous document on its only journey outside of the United Kingdom. The rest of the day was spent visiting the special exhibition Bulgari: 130 Years of Masterpieces, the Cockrell Butterfly Center and watching a film in our Giant Screen Theater. Of course a trip to the museum wouldn’t be complete without visiting the Moran Hall of Paleontology! All in all, it was a fun-filled day of Science!

GEMS winners 4

Troop 21318 has participated in GEMS for many years, and we wish them all luck as they graduate and go on to their next STEM adventures! We hope to have more projects like these at GEMS 2015!

You have the opportunity to win prize money just like these girls! If you would like to participate in GEMS 2015, you can apply here. All it takes is a group of enthusiastic students, an adult chaperone and a project exploring science, technology, engineering or math. For more information, check out our GEMS page and download the application!

STEM & GEMS: Stephanie Thompson Swims With Sharks

Editor’s Note: As part of our annual GEMS (Girls Exploring Math and Science) program, we conduct interviews with women who have pursued careers in science, technology, engineering, or math. This week, we’re featuring Stephanie Thompson, Animal Care Technician at HMNS

Make sure you mark your calendars for this year’s GEMS event, February 21, 2015!

GEMS blog October

Stephanie Thompson with a Great White Shark model in HMNS’ SHARK! Touch Tank Experience

HMNS: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Thompson: 
I have always wanted to become a marine biologist and work with sharks. I got my chance to really sink into marine biology when I started working with Texas A&M Galveston in its efforts to help in the conservation and rehabilitation of sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico back in 2011. I got the job of Animal Care Technician at HMNS in 2014 then graduated with my degree in Marine Biology.  Now I finally have my opportunity to work with sharks.

HMNS: How old were you when you first become interested in science?
Thompson: I was five years old when I realized I wanted to be a biologist.

HMNS: Was there a specific person or event that inspired you when you were younger?
Thompson: My parents took me to a beach in NC. We went to a pier and someone caught a shark and let me pet it. Since then I have always wanted to work with sharks and the ocean!

HMNS: What was your favorite project when you were in school?
Thompson: My favorite project in school was my fish collection project in ichthyology. I had to go out to various lakes and beaches in the eastern part of Texas and collect various species of fish throughout the semester. At one point I got to go out into the middle of the Gulf of Mexico for my collection and was accompanied by a pod of dolphins.

HMNS: What is your current job? How does this relate to science/technology/engineering/math?
Thompson: I take care of the live animals at HMNS. This means I feed them, clean their homes, and care for them if they are sick.

HMNS: What’s the best part of your job?
Thompson: The best part of my job is taking care of the sharks[in SHARK! The Touch Tank Experience]! It’s a dream come true.

HMNS: What do you like to do in your spare time?
Thompson: In my spare time I like to paint, work on projects in my mom’s wood shop, and spend time with family and friends!

HMNS: What advice would you give to girls interested in pursuing a STEM career? 
Thompson: Never give up on dreams! It may be a long and difficult road but if it is something you really want to do then don’t let anyone or anything hold you back.

HMNS: Why do you think it’s important for girls to have access to an event like Girls Exploring Math and Science (GEMS)?
Thompson: It is important because the more girls who have access to these kinds of events means that it is likelier that these girls will be interested these fields in the future. There is not enough women in these industries right now, meaning that it is dominated by men. If more women became engineers, biologists, or physicists then the workforce would have different perspectives. With more women in these fields we could have better technologies and make more discoveries about the world around us!

GEMS is always looking for organizations to share enthusiasm about science and math with young students. If you are part of an organization that would like to participate in GEMS, applications are available here!

 

 

STEM & GEMS: CB&I’s Katie Balko engineers her future

Editor’s Note: As part of our annual GEMS (Girls Exploring Math and Science) program, we conduct interviews with women who have pursued careers in science, technology, engineering, or math. This week, we’re featuring Katie Balko, Process Engineer at CB&I.HMNS: How old were you when you first became interested in science, technology, engineering, or math?
Balko: Growing up, I switched what I wanted to be when I grew up almost every year. I wanted to be a teacher, then I read a book on dolphins and wanted to be a marine biologist. I liked to draw and decided I was going to be like my favorite author and write and illustrate my own books.

Math had always come easy for me. And after reading another book in high school, I decided I was going to be a physical therapist. All that changed when I took a chemistry class. I loved it. Even though I was already accepted to college for physical therapy, I decided to take a chance and on the last day of admissions, I applied to another college for chemical engineering and got in. I took my love of chemistry with the fact that I was good at math and found the right degree for me in engineering.

HMNS: Was there a specific person or event that inspired you when you were younger?
Balko: My chemistry teacher my senior year of high school really helped me realize that I liked chemistry. She worked with me on what would be tested in college and prepared me for what the classes would be like. It was hard, I studied every night, but it paid off in the long run.

HMNS: What was your favorite class when you were in school?
Balko: My favorite class (and lab) was Organic Chemistry. It is most people’s least favorite and I understand why. It’s tough. It was tough for me, too, but I also saw it as a puzzle with a specific set of rules. When I thought in terms of a puzzle, it made it easier. The lab was also cool because you were making things you see and hear about every day — like separating out caffeine.

HMNS: What is your current job? How does this relate to science, technology, engineering, or math?
Balko: Right now, I am process (chemical) engineer at CB&I, an engineering and construction company. I work for their gas processing group. I design plants that take all the “bad things” out of gas so it can be used cleanly.

I have also been switching over into a sales role over the past year. I think it’s important to keep growing in your career and I find this part of the business interesting. I also want to keep building on my degree as an engineer to do bigger and better things.

HMNS: What’s the best part of your job?
Balko: I joined on as a rotational engineer, so I got to experience a lot of different jobs in the company from chemical engineering to marketing. Through the different roles, I was able to network with a lot of people. I think the best part is having the opportunity to take a background in engineering and apply it to different roles.

HMNS: What do you like to do in your spare time?
Balko: Last year, I traveled a lot — both for work and for fun! This year looks to be about the same and I love it. I’m not a big movie or TV person but I love to read and to draw. I also like to stay active. I’ve been doing yoga consistently for five years, and last year I started doing CrossFit.

HMNS: What advice would you give to girls interested in pursuing a STEM career? 
Balko: It’s worth it if it interests you. It will be hard, but the rewards are great. Use whatever resources you have. In college, I had a very good study group that helped push me through projects and exams. I utilized all of my teachers’ and TAs’ office hours and even had a tutor who helped get me through a hard math course.

Ask questions and don’t stop learning. Most people want to see you succeed but they won’t know you don’t understand something unless you ask them.

Volunteer. Volunteer to be the project lead in college. It might be scary and hard but you’ll figure it out and learn a lot in the process. Lead your team to help everyone succeed.         

HMNS: Why do you think it’s important for girls to have access to an event like GEMS?
Balko: There are more men than women in STEM careers. Events like GEMS get girls exposed to successful women in math and science, which helps to bring awareness to their potential and knowledge about those careers.

More about Katie Balko:
Katie Balko grew up in a small town about an hour outside of Pittsburgh. She has two younger sisters and a younger brother, and was a Girl Scout for nine years. In high school, she was on the swim, soccer and lacrosse teams. She went to Penn State University where she earned a degree in Chemical Engineering. After graduating, Balko decided to move out of state and found herself in Texas. She has now lived in Houston for six years.

HMC SWE Rosie tattoo

Click this image to go to the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) website.