Ma’ayanot STEAM Talks and Maker Faire Encourage Students to Shoot for the Moon
Ma’ayanot students received powerful messages during the second annual STEAM Talks and Maker Faire held at the school on Thursday, December 8.
“At Ma’ayanot, we are taking active measures to close the gender gap in STEAM fields,” said Mrs. Gila Stein, co-director of STEAM Education & Innovation with Mrs. Orly Nadler. (STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Math.)
“We believe that students cannot become what they cannot see,” added Mrs. Nadler. “In that vein, we created STEAM Talks–a high-energy, innovative program designed to propel our students to seriously explore viable careers in STEAM.”
To broaden students’ scope and aspirations for the future, STEAM Talks featured six highly successful women in STEAM careers. The event, which is modeled after Ted Talks, invited each speaker to share her passion about her career for seven minutes. It was a morning filled with excitement and energy (in addition to dancing to rocking music by DJ Isaac Chalou) as the women shared their challenges and accomplishments.
The presentations began with introductions by Mrs. Nadler and Mrs. Stein and a dvar Torah by Mrs. Rivka Kahan, Ma’ayanot’s principal, about the mitzvah of being creators and using talents for the greater good.
The first speaker, Leora Platt Mishaan, creative director of Teri Jon, the women’s luxury clothing line, related how she started her company’s profitable online store eight years ago without any budget. She was not deterred and ran the business single-handedly. “No one is born a genius,” she told the students. “But if you bring your passion and creativity to everything you do, you can make a huge impact.”
Michelle Sohn, vice president of product development at OXO Housewares, talked about the creativity involved in mechanical engineering and the process of researching, designing and testing products that are marketable. As someone who is able to combine her love of baking and cooking with her expertise in science and math, she emphasized the importance of following your passion. “Do what you love,” she told the students. “Choose something that makes you happy.”
Estelle Anselmo, chief engineer and rocket scientist at Arde Inc. in Carlstadt, New Jersey, wowed students with images of the rockets and satellites that are equipped with pressurized vessels necessary for launch that she and her company designed. “A spacecraft that I touched, I designed and built five miles from here is sitting on Mars,” she said. Students were amazed to learn that within 25 miles of Ma’ayanot are five companies that design machinery that supports spaceflight.
Other speakers included Chavi Karkowsky, MD, medical director of ob-gyn/maternal-fetal medicine at Montefiore Medical Center, who showed students videos of a fetal heartbeat and described the trajectory of an advanced medical degree; Natalie Macon, biomedical engineer and former director of clinical development at Johnson & Johnson, who described how exciting new biomedical therapies can change people’s lives; and Miriam Herman, adjunct instructor of computer science at Yeshiva University, who told students about a program called Jewish Women Code and said, “If you challenge yourself, you can achieve anything you want.”
The talks were interspersed with inspiring videos from four Ma’ayanot alumnae who are now studying or working in STEAM-related fields. Meena Viswanath (‘06), a geotechnical engineer who designs foundations of buildings, repairs landslides and designs landfills and dams, described why she loves her job. “When I’m doing calculations or writing reports, I’m contributing to the construction of something that will help the environment or advance infrastructure,” she said. She encouraged students to dream big and not feel limited by traditional career options.
Jordie Gilbert-Honick (‘08), a Ph.D. candidate in biomedical engineering with a specialization in skeletal muscle tissue engineering at Johns Hopkins University, related that the critical thinking skills she learned while studying Gemara at Ma’ayanot helped her persevere in computer coding classes, which she compared to learning a foreign language. “I realized I’d faced similar challenges before and I could do it again,” she said.
STEAM Talks were followed by a hands-on Maker Faire, in which students interacted with robots, built Artbots (devices designed with motors, colorful markers, batteries, recycled containers and other materials, which scribbled on a white floor mat), created E-textiles using conductive thread, LED’s, fabrics and 3D paints and much more. Ma’ayanot’s college guidance department answered students’ questions about finding internships and research opportunities in STEAM and furthering their STEAM studies in college. Elizabeth Kratz, associate publisher and editor of The Jewish Link, spoke to students about the opportunities for young women in science and technology journalism, and internship possibilities at The Link.
Ma’ayanot is one of the only all-girls high schools that has a four-year engineering program and a state-of-the-art Makerspace Lab. “The all-girls environment fosters creativity and gives the students a lot of freedom to create,” said Mrs. Nadler. “Every day I see girls experiencing that ‘Aha!’ moment when they say, ‘I can do this! I can be an innovator!’”
“Our goals are to equip all of our students with the necessary innovation and engineering skills that will enable them to be at the top of their class when they enter college and graduate school, and to be extremely competitive in the 21st-century job market,” added Mrs. Stein.
Reflecting on STEAM Talks, Ma’ayanot freshman Amira Isenberg said, “STEAM is the field of the future. Today made me feel inspired that computer coding and engineering can change lives.”
Maya Stiefel, a sophomore, added, “I learned that women can be anything they want to be.”