Seven Women Engineers Launch Starr Foundation’s Project Home in Middle School

The Spence School’s Project Home, a Middle School immersion into the world of scientists and engineers, got underway during a half-day residency with seven women engineers from the NYC firm of Jaros, Baum & Bolles.
As the name implies, the program is focused on the concept of “home” and is funded through a grant from the Starr Foundation. Through a series of personal experiences and scientific experiments, Project Home aims to connect students with scientists and engineers to discover how to create safe and healthy places for everyone to live, work and play. Science Department Head Scott Godsen, along with science teacher and Grade 5 Homeroom teacher Stephanie Romary, designed Project Home, a four-year program that begins in Grade 5 and culminates with a capstone experience in Grade 8. The experiences the students have in Grades 5, 6, and 7 will be the foundation for the Grade 8 project. Project Home’s launch was the first step in helping our students envision what it would be like to be a scientist or engineer. 
Who Are We and What Do We Do?
During a presentation to the class, engineers Lauren Pavlat, Monika Mohacsi, Abeo Williams, Mehl Patel, Sphia Tampakis, Carrie Franchino and Maeve Weiden each shared their background and specialty, which included electrical, mechanical, plumbing and building information modeling. The presentation’s “cool factor” hit a new high among the fifth-graders as the group shared a 3D modeling of a building’s mechanical rooms under design, passed around electrical, heating and cooling, and sprinkler parts that they had designed, and shared some of their building designs.
Engineers Create
Back in Grade 5 homerooms, the engineers teamed up to work with students on three activities: constructing a tower (using popsicle sticks, rubber bands, scotch tape and gum drops—each item had to be used at least once), building a holiday light circuit (using file folders, tape, aluminum foil, brass fasteners, wire strippers, holiday lights and a 9-volt battery) and creating a roller coaster (using only tape, cardboard, construction paper and different weight marbles), a project that produced two roller coasters as a collaborative design of all 51 students in the grade.
Students had to consider many questions while working on these activities: how do you build height and simultaneously maintain stability; what are conductive and nonconductive materials; how does weight affect speed; and do heavier objects accelerate faster?
The competitive spirit was in full force as students attempted to load as many books on top of their superstructures--the winning tower design withstood the weight of 13 books. The roller coaster activity created two roller coasters that were named Fishy and Dead Zone to characterize the feat of structural design and engineering by each student group.
Finally, to the loud chants of every fifth-grader, Fishy and Dead Zone—now completely branded with warning signs and a make-shift splash-zone—were put to the test to see which one perfected the elements of design for speed, stability and safety. It was an uproarious end to a half-day residency that successfully achieved the goal of inspiring students to see engineering at work in their everyday lives, while also creating an unforgettable opportunity to work and create with some of the coolest female engineers who are at work creating New York City’s notable landmark buildings.
About the Starr Foundation Grant
The Spence School received funding (2017 and 2018) from The Starr Foundation to enhance and broaden the School’s STEM curriculum. The grant, which was facilitated by Hanna Lundqvist Dameron ’04 and her father, Bertil Lundqvist, has helped Spence establish an endowed fund that will support the School’s Girls in Science Program.