Staff naturalists Kelli Van Noppen and Bailey Zook embarked on a special project in November of 2018 to build a program for a few special young women that would support them from their 6th-8th grade years. The program, STEEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Environment, and Math), would accept 5-6 upcoming 6th grade gals nominated by their 5th-grade teachers each year. These ladies would attend a week-long summer institute at the Montana Natural History Center, complete with field experiences, special guests, and a self-directed capstone project. They would stay in contact throughout the school year, meeting 2-4 times in person to chat about middle school, classes, projects, and the future of STEEM. They would then return the following summers as upcoming 7th and 8th graders to help welcome the new group of rising 6th graders and serve as their mentors while gaining more professional and life experience.

This past Monday, July 8th, 2019, Kelli and Bailey welcomed five amazing upcoming 6th graders to be the first official members of the STEEM Sisters Collaborative. Eliza, Zoe, Caroline, Ella, and Dylan were the perfect cohort to get the STEEM program up and running.

young women in science camp sitting in a plane on a field trip

from left: Danielle (pilot), and the STEEM Sisters: Zoe, Dylan, Caroline, Ella, Eliza

This week they have focused on the physics of flight and visited Neptune Aviation and UM’s Ornithology Flight Lab to learn about airplanes and birds respectively. The young women also got to lead paper glider making, testing, and redesigning at spectrUM to share the knowledge they gained during the week. While four of them worked with patrons of spectrUM to assist with the building and testing of their airplanes, Dylan took some time to capture the experience in words:

July 10, 2019

Today the STEEM Sisters walked to spectrUM from the Montana Natural History Center to show kids how to make a paper airplane and measure how far it could fly. 

young women in science camp teaching young children about flight

Dylan, Eliza, Caroline, Ella, Zoe teaching the four forces of flight at spectrUM

They prepared for this by making them the day before they went to spectrUM so they could measure the length of the wingspan and learn the four forces of flight which are lift, drag, gravity, and thrust.

Painting by Dylan Baack

I interviewed Caroline, one of my associates, and she said that she thinks this camp is awesome and she’s glad she signed up for it. Her favorite project was coming to spectrUM and helping kids build paper airplanes. She would not like to change anything except for the glue stick quality. Caroline is going to do a blog post on the differences of how birds and planes get on and off the ground for her big project.

young woman in science camp teaching a young child about flight

Caroline teaching about flight at spectrUM

I also interviewed Ella, another one of my associates, and she said that she thinks this camp is fun and exciting, and is glad she signed up for it. Her favorite project was also coming to spectrUM to help kids make paper airplanes. She wouldn’t like to change anything about how they run the camp either, but, like Caroline said, they could get new glue sticks. Ella is going to make a video comparing birds, bats, and airplanes in flight for her project. 

young woman outside studying nature


Written by:
Dylan A. Baack