June 4, 2019
By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Rutherford County Schools
Before deciding to change careers and become a STEM instructor at Rocky Fork Middle School, Bobbie Jo Meredith spent 11 years working with Schneider Electric.
She was involved with everything from engineering to quality management and business.
To say fewer women pursue STEM-related careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics would be an understatement. At one point, Meredith was the only woman among a team of 50 engineers.
She just finished her second year as an educator, and for the second consecutive summer, she is offering a weeklong summer camp titled “Code Like a Girl” for middle school aged girls. The camp offers Meredith an opportunity to urge and push students to explore a field they might not have otherwise chosen.
“Before it was a guy (who is a) geek and likes coding on the computer in the dark,” explained Meredith, of mischaracterized stereotypes, “and, no, that’s not what we’re about. We are problem solvers in STEM, so there are so many different types of personalities — boys, girls, different ethnicities that bring things to that problem-solving process.
“I am trying to help them see what that is, what STEM is all about.”
Kayleigh Moring, who will be an eighth-grader at Oakland Middle School this fall, said the lack of girls participating in STEM related courses is because of “social norms.”
“Girls are not really supposed to like technology like dudes do,” Moring said, “but I think we can prove them wrong. We can like technology too.”
Moring is not alone.
Of the 12 girls enrolled in the camp, seven of them asked their parents if they could sign up. Four said the camp was suggested and only one was told they were attending.
The campers are a mix of incoming sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders from Rutherford County and, unlike Moring, Meredith said most are learning something new.
“In general, for Rutherford Works, we are trying to increase their interest in tech fields, technology, code camps and code fields,” Meredith said, “and then specifically with this one we’re gearing it towards middle school girls cause we want to give them that chance to explore this without having to worry about their perception with boys.”
Changing the perception has been the focus globally for the past five years, according to Meredith.
Moring’s interest in STEM comes from her mother, who she described as “a big tech geek as well.” Moring has two siblings but said she’s the only one interested in STEM.
She’s one of only two girls in a 20-member coding club at Oakland Middle.
“When I saw this camp,” said Moring, who lit up at the title, “I thought I could interact with other girls that like coding.”
Jocelyn Payne, who will be a seventh-grader at Rocky Fork Middle School where the camp is taking place this week, signed up because of the impact Meredith and fellow STEM instructor Clare Kaplan had on her this past school year.
Payne had no previous STEM experiences.
She had taken choir and band, but, this past year, decided to get involved with robotics, the Science Olympiad and the STEM Expo.
“It shows you to communicate with people — a lot of that shows that — and then how to work in different situations, really,” Payne said.
Payne said extracurricular STEM activities like the coding camps provided by Chamber of Commerce’s Rutherford Works program is not only another learning opportunity, but a chance to have fun and coming out of it knowing you did something to improve yourself and your mind and maybe something else as well.”
“I like that we can build things from scratch,” said Moring, who would like to build a robot that would clean her room.”
“In middle school you should try everything you can get to,” said Payne, who described Kaplan as her favorite science teacher but said she would like to try engineering like Meredith. “It’s impacted my future. I want to do more — something that I can really influence other people.”
PHOTOS / KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT