More than 200 Sussex County freshman girls were encouraged to dream big as they participated in a Women in STEM Career Day, hosted by the Newton FIRST Varsity Robotics Team and the Technology Student Association (TSA) female leaders, and funded with a $5,000 grant from Johnson & Johnson. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Held on Jan. 9, the daylong event provided area students with the opportunity to meet, hear from, and be inspired by the guest presenters, all of whom are working in STEM fields.

The event was coordinated by Abigail Nicholas, a Newton High School (NHS) sophomore and STEM Ambassador. Also coordinating the event were NHS technology teacher Jim Hofmann, NHS guidance counselor Theresa Hough, and NHS Principal Jeffrey Waldron. The day featured guest speakers, interactive stations on careers in STEM, a FarmBot device, lessons on how to build a rainbow machine, and more.

The rainbow machine illustrates basic optical principles. It consists of a white LED coupled into an optical fiber. The light exits the fiber, hits a mirror and then passes through a dispersing prism. The light splits into a spectrum and projects onto a screen. For this event, Audrey Wall of Thorlabs purposely misaligned the mirror and the prism, so that young women girls had to work to realign the system to get the rainbow spectrum to show up on the screen.

Nicholas introduced a video submitted by Danielle DeFeo, a 2010 NHS graduate who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Stevens Institute of Technology and is now working as a mechanical engineer at Disney in the Sustaining Engineering Department.

Students also watched a video from Cassie Yauch, a graduate of Kittatinny High School and a former FIRST Varsity Robotics Team member. Yauch is now a senior at Virginia Tech University studying engineering.

The Newton Robotics Team works closely with Thorlabs, which supported the event, sending Audrey Wall, Maureen Smith, and Amruthaa Sunderaraj. They helped the young women build the rainbow machine. Stacey Yauch, a chemical engineer from Picatinny Arsenal, provided an overview of the role the arsenal plays in the nation’s defense and STEM careers in the military.

Other supporters included the Girl Scouts of Northern New Jersey and scientist Matthew Richtmyer and engineer Catherine Mack, who both work with Johnson & Johnson.

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