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CMU medical students make STEM learning fun for Detroit girls

STEMpowered camp enlightens and engages inner-city fourth graders

Contact: Curt Smith

​The bare concrete floor and brick walls of the warehouse in Detroit echoed the chatter and laughter of 19 fourth-grade girls as they manufactured gas bubbles from dry ice, created vacuums in straws while competing in a relay race and performed other experiments.

Welcome to STEMpowered, a weeklong science, technology, engineering and math camp for Detroit girls and the result of a vision of the nonprofit group's co-founders, Madeline Palmer and Erika Brockberg.

Palmer, part of the inaugural class of the Central Michigan College of Medicine and now in her third year as a medical student, said articles detailing how women are under-represented as professionals in STEM fields and studies showing girls self-select out STEM topics in elementary school led to the creation of STEMpowered in 2013. ​

Online fundraising and sponsorship from Big Boy Restaurants allowed every girl in the inaugural camp to attend for free. This year, Palmer, from Birmingham, and Brockberg secured sponsorship from Fox Sports Detroit. They also extended the camp to two weeks – one week for first-time campers and a second for girls who attended in 2014.

"The goal of STEMpowered is to build confidence, build excitement and foster curiosity," Palmer said. "I think one of the most amazing things you can start to do is explore the world and explore how it works and why things react the way they do."

Palmer and Brockberg recruited friends to serve as mentors. Fellow CMU College of Medicine students Emily Fortin of Ann Arbor, Stefanie Digiandomenico of Livonia and Leela Chandrasekar of Grosse Pointe are part of the 10-woman team who picked up girls from their homes, led them through morning experiments and afternoon field trips and drove them home.

Madeline PalmerThis year, half of the girls used a variety of materials to craft containers to cradle an egg so it would not break when dropped from the top of a tall ladder. The other girls used supplies to create Rube Goldberg machines.

Palmer and the other mentors said they plan to recruit more leaders for next year and continue STEMpowered. For now, Palmer, Fortin and Digiandomenico are back to medical school in a year filled with clinical rotations and a half-year of a community clerkship with internal and family medicine doctors.

The third class of 104 CMU College of Medicine students​ arrives in Mount Pleasant on Aug. 3, bringing the number of medical students at CMU to 272. Of that total, 85 percent are from Michigan, reflecting the mission of the College of Medicine to provide quality physicians for underserved areas in the state and the Midwest.

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