2019-2020 Girls Discover STEM

STEM Happenings in 2019-2020

In addition to holding events each semester for the West Oso Junior High School girls who are interested in STEM careers, the AAUW STEM Committee continues to be involved with other activities at West Oso Independent School District.

A West Oso student explained her project to Mary Sorrells, an AAUW member who served as a Science Fair judge.

On January 22, 2020, Mary Sorrells and Janet Blanke served as judges at the 2nd Annual West Oso Junior High School Science Fair. This is the first year that West Oso Junior High has a STEM class, and the positive effect of that class on the projects this year was evident. There were over 40 6th, 7th, and 8th grade Science Fair projects, and the students had stepped-up their research and quality of work. West Oso ISD does a great job of involving the community in their education efforts, and there were 20 judges from the community for the Science Fair. Fifteen student projects advanced to the Regional Science Fair at Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi, and seven advanced to State!

West Oso students exhibited their Science Fair projects.

On February 6, West Oso High School held a Career Day for grades 8 through 12. Professionals from all over the Coastal Bend were invited to speak with students about a wide variety of careers, the education required for those careers, and the opportunities for advancement within those careers. Our AAUW members Diana Cardenas, Kelly Gonzalez, Josephina Villarreal, Barbara Szczerbinska, and Janet Blanke participated and shared stories about their career choices with the students.

Story and photos by Janet Blanke, STEM Committee Chair

Girls Discover STEM at the Harte Research Institute

The AAUW Corpus Christi Branch organized a Girls Discover STEM event at the Harte Research Institute located on the Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi campus on November 18, 2019. For three hours, 21 West Oso Junior High School 7th and 8th grade girls were inspired by female graduate students, directors, and professors on topics concerning marine biology and the coastal environment.

Electronic sign welcoming the “Girls Discover STEM” participants at the Harte Research Institute.

The morning’s program kicked off with welcoming remarks from Gail Sutton, Associate Director for Institutional Initiatives, Finance, and Administration at the Harte Research Institute. Ms. Sutton outlined the day’s agenda, identifying four stations at which the West Oso girls rotated.

Station #1: Fisheries and Ocean Health

Presenters Jill Thompson-Grim and Kelsey Martin showed the West Oso girls how researchers from the Harte Research Institute use state-of-the-art tagging and tracking techniques to generate much needed data about the lives of sharks in the Gulf of Mexico. Each girl participated in a simulation exercise to tag a shark from the side of a boat in the gulf. Participants then used a Shark Identification Guide to learn how to recognize common features that distinguish shark species.

Shark tagging

Shark identification

Station #2: Conservation and Restoration

Presenters Meghan Martinez and Danielle Downey discussed oysters and their habitats. Girls learned more about the oyster life cycle and how oysters are a major economic driver for coastal communities. The presenters stressed that appropriate salinity levels in the water are crucial for oysters. The West Oso girls then practiced testing the salinity levels of three water samples using refractometers.

Examining oysters

Using refractometers to detect salinity levels

Station #3: Ecosystems and Modeling

Presenters Elizabeth Harris and Hanna Ehrmann talked about what lives in the mud along our gulf coast shores. Girls enjoyed learning about the small and microscopic organisms that are a part of the local biosphere. They also learned how humans have an impact on the ecosystems of the area estuaries and mud tidal flats.

Examining what lives in the mud

Station #4: Geospatial Sciences

Presenters Marissa Dotson and Brynn Putnam demonstrated mapping of our area coastlines and talked about the effects of hurricanes and other dramatic climate events on the changes in environmental conditions. They discussed the importance of our area barrier islands with the sand dunes and marshes as a first defense against the devastating damages from hurricanes.

Learning about geospatial sciences

After the girls rotated through the four stations, Dr. Kateryna Wowk, Associate Research Scientist at the Harte Research Institute, talked to the group about her work in helping to strengthen community resilience – the concept of assessing risks, identifying possible solutions, taking action, and evaluating the results. Dr. Wowk explained how her work involves meeting with area city councils and providing information so that communities are better prepared and more resilient after a disaster.

Dr. Jennifer Pollack, HRI Chair for Coastal Conservation and Restoration and Associate Professor of Marine Biology, was our last presenter. Dr. Pollack passed around bottles with samples of marine life, including shrimp, crabs, various fish, insects, and more.

Dr. Pollack watched as West Oso girls examined a specimen.

The Harte Research Institute hosted lunch for the attendees and presenters. West Oso girls had the opportunity for small group discussions with the female researchers at their tables, learning about their backgrounds and college experiences. After lunch, TAMUCC recruiters took the girls on a campus tour.


AAUW Corpus Christi Branch heartily thanks the Harte Research Institute, especially Dr. Jennifer Pollack and Gail Sutton, for hosting the event, planning the program, and providing a stimulating, hands-on experience for the 21 West Oso Junior High School girls. Through these presentations by successful females working in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math, we aim to encourage and inspire junior high school girls to discover the joys of STEM careers.

Article and photos by Dr. Vickie Natale