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U.S. Navy lands at Harpeth Hall to teach STEM in practice

In the Bullard Bright IDEA Lab on a recent weekend in September, girls from Harpeth Hall and throughout Nashville began open the door to new possibilities of what they could be when they grow up. 

They could see themselves in the box office of a plane navigating complicated routes.

They could imagine designing computer software that could change lives. 

They could start to picture the different robotic functions they could code to perform detailed jobs.

Surrounded by their peers, these bright young students learned that through STEM education, the opportunities are endless.

This was all thanks to the work of Harpeth Hall’s STEM Education for Girls program and the United States Naval Academy (USNA).

That Saturday, midshipmen from the USNA’s STEM program led a day full of hands-on educational activities meant to inspire students to see the applications of STEM beyond the classroom as an extension of Harpeth Hall's STEM Summer Institute (SSI)

Founded in 2013, the STEM Summer Institute is a two-week camp at Harpeth Hall that brings together rising 6th-12th grade girls from around Middle Tennessee with the goal of solving real-world problems by creating, building, and testing their own prototype solutions.

This fall, Harpeth Hall invited STEM Summer Institute attendees back to campus along with girls from across Middle Tennessee to participate in additional workshops led by the U.S. Navy.

Excited by the opportunities to work with STEM professionals, the students brought an incredible level of determination and a competitive spirit to every activity they tackled.

“They wanted to catapult their ball the furthest, earn 10 points by hitting the bullseye with their rocket, support the most gems before sinking their ship, and design the most creative robot path,” said Jennifer Webster, director of Harpeth Hall's STEM center. “And they all seemed to have a great time doing it.”

Throughout the day, Ms. Webster saw how the girls were inspired by the work of the midshipmen.

“I watched girls talk about STEM content that they had learned in their classes as they tried to apply the knowledge to real-world scenarios,” she said. “Their enthusiasm was contagious as they tried out their STEM knowledge and skills. Hearing the midshipmen talk about how they apply the same STEM principles in their own studies was engaging and fun. The midshipmen helped to open their eyes to new possibilities in STEM.”

At the end of the day, each girl left excitedly discussing everything she learned during the day.

“I hope that students learned something new about the STEM principles involved with flying, floating, sinking, trajectories, and robotics," Ms. Webster said. "I also hope that conversations with the midshipmen helped these girls to imagine themselves as pilots, ship navigators, computer scientists, and more.”