a young girl in safety goggles holds a beaker of blue liquid
A local elementary student takes a closer look at a chemical reaction during Girls in Science and Engineering Day at The University of Alabama in Huntsville on April 1, 2023.
Michael Mercier | UAH

From severe weather to contaminated water to crumbling infrastructure, problems challenge us every day in our community and across our planet. But who’s going to help us solve them? Perhaps the next generation of engineers and scientists who gathered on April 1 for Girls in Science and Engineering Day (GSED) at the Shelby Center for Science and Technology at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), a part of The University of Alabama System.

UAH holds GSED because girls remain underrepresented in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math – STEM – said Dr. Rhonda Gaede, UAH interim associate provost and associate professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

“Only about 20 percent of students in engineering are female even though research has shown that they have the same interest in STEM subjects until about middle school. Then there’s a leak in the pipeline,” she said. “To solve the complex problems facing our world, we can’t afford to leave a significant portion of our population on the sidelines. We need diverse perspectives in as many different areas as possible.”

GSED aims to nurture that interest, Dr. Gaede said. “We want the people who want to go into STEM to feel welcome.”

Close to 400 students signed up for GSED 2023. The vast majority were girls, but the program is open to all students in grades three through six, and a few boys attended, too. Last year’s event was limited to 200 registrants with more than 100 on a waiting list. This year, organizers doubled the program with third- and fourth-graders in the morning session and fifth- and sixth-graders in the afternoon.

UAH President Dr. Charles Karr, an engineer himself, offered a rousing welcome to the morning group.

Dr. Jennifer English, UAH associate dean of undergraduate affairs and associate professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, asked fifth- and sixth-graders to think about what scientists and engineers do.

“They design stuff,” various kids replied. “They study plants and animals. They build things and solve problems.”

“Sometimes they don’t even know what the problems are yet,” Dr. English pointed out. “They are superheroes whether you know it or not. We don’t have a superhero waiting around to solve our problems. We have scientists and engineers. And we need your help.”

The superheroes-in-training were assigned to smaller groups who rotated through three different STEM workshops organized and led by UAH faculty, local industry volunteers and UAH student groups.

“Peeps in Space” offered a tasty twist on the serious topic of space exploration. Students designed a Peepstronaut suit with aluminum foil, plastic wrap, cups and tape to protect their marshmallow chicks or bunnies from the hazards that real astronauts face: 1. Temperature extremes, 2. Lack of oxygen, 3. Debris, 4. Lack of pressure, 5. Radiation.

In the robotics room, a voice-controlled robot that can play games declared, “I’m a hugging machine!”

Other workshops focused on propulsion and the principles of flight, extraction of DNA, making ice cream with liquid nitrogen, using a wind tunnel to demonstrate flight, programming, cybersecurity and more.

“I like the idea of being an engineer,” said sixth-grader Evie Phillips. “My dad is an engineer. When I get home from school, I hang out with him. I like building things and seeing how they operate.”

GSED 2023 was sponsored by Women in Defense – Tennessee Valley chapter. These groups and organizations sponsored workshops: Alabama Space Grant Consortium; Blue Halo; HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology; BASF Corporation & the UAH Chemistry Club; Blue Origin New Mercury and Club for The Future; Society of Women Engineers, UAH; Tau Beta Pi, Alabama Delta Chapter, UAH; Northrop Grumman, Defense Systems; Women of Aeronautics and Astronautics; Axient; The Center for Space Plasma and Aeronomic Research, UAH; UAH Space Hardware Club, and the Department of Mathematical Sciences and the Department of Biological Sciences, UAH College of Science.

Volunteer Jaekeia Flakes, a member of the Society of Women Engineers, summed up the day for the adults:

“Just to see the number of girls who were excited about STEM was good enough for me.”

Girls in Science and Engineering Day Photos



Kristina Hendrix

Elizabeth Gibisch