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Sharing A Passion for STEM

Summer Keating of Fairfax Station starts STEMaze group.

Summer Keating, a sixth-grader at Silverbrook Elementary School, has started a group called STEMaze to promote excitement in learning STEM subjects.

Summer Keating, a sixth-grader at Silverbrook Elementary School, has started a group called STEMaze to promote excitement in learning STEM subjects. Photo by Janelle Germanos.

Summer Keating is only in sixth grade at Silverbrook Elementary School, but the 11-year-old Fairfax Station resident is already sharing her passion for science and math with the community.

“We don't do enough hands-on science, there is too much work for SOLs,” Summer said. “When we do science, it’s not as creative as I would like.”

After she felt like she wasn’t getting enough STEM education while at school, Keating founded STEMaze, a group dedicated to promoting hands-on science and math learning, especially among girls.

“When we actually started doing science in school, it wasn’t hands-on. It was more worksheets and stuff that you didn’t really remember the next year,” she said. “I want to make everyone like it the way I like it.”

Summer, who has loved science since pre-school, is shocked by how many more men than women pursue STEM careers. She is working to change that with STEMaze and other advocacy work in her community.

“In social studies, we learned the women didn’t have the right to vote. It has changed from that, but maybe not all the way,” she said.

ACCORDING TO SUMMER’S MOTHER, Shaista Keating, the journey of sharing STEM with the community has been rewarding.

Summer participated in a STEM Fair at her school, which brought a couple of its own challenges.

“Sometimes people wouldn’t think the STEM Fair would be cool. I went around and heard people say ‘no, I think it will be boring.’ But then I would try to fix it,” Summer said.

The STEM fair was a success, with over 50 students participating. It’s helped to increase interest in STEM at her school.

“I think it was a success because we worked together. Dr. Mackin helped us a lot. Mr. Tagert gave me a bunch of books about science to take home. Ms. Kern gave science gifts to all the participants. All my friends in STEMaze worked hard. It was fun,” said Summer.

STEMaze makes science and math fun, Summer said, through activities like the STEM Fair and trips to museums.

“All the STEMaze girls came over to my house and had a sleepover, and when the meteor shower was supposed to happen, we went outside and watched it,” Summer said.

Summer is also using STEMaze to mentor younger girls, like earlier this year when the group went with Summer’s younger sister’s Girl Scout troop to an aquarium. Now her sister, who is in second-grade, is also thinking about starting a STEMaze group.

“Each older girl had three younger ones, so we took them around and explained things that they couldn’t understand,” Summer said.

Mentoring is part of Summer’s personality. When she was only in fourth grade, she wanted to be a math tutor.

“I still have the flyer. I told her she would have to wait, but she would be a great math tutor,” her mother said.

Summer is an active member of Girl Scouts, plays violin, and is in a math club.

“Math is Summer’s thing,” said Karen Walters, her math club coach who is also the assistant dean of Mathematics at Northern Virginia Community College. “We need girls like Summer to advocate for math and science to fill gaps in these fields in higher education.”

IN EARLY APRIL, Summer advocated for STEM at the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors public hearings on the 2015 budget, along with other girls in the STEMaze club. She’s also hoping to find a way to help underserved kids in the community learn more about STEM.

“I think that a lot of the main reason we don’t have exciting STEM in schools is because we don’t really have any money to buy the experiments and things we need to use,” she said. “I thought if we had more money it would be a lot easier and we could have more STEM activities.”

Summer, who wants to be a patent lawyer when she grows up, is planning on spending part of the summer planning more STEMaze activities and goals for next year as she transitions to South County Middle School. She is also planning on staying with Girl Scouts, where she recently was honored with the President’s Award, the youngest so far to receive this award, and the Silver Award for her leadership demonstrated through her STEM advocacy.

Summer also enjoys Math Olympiad.

“Two of our teachers, Ms. Lally and Ms. West serve as coaches to make math more fun for kids. STEM is a priority for our principal at Silverbrook, I wish there was more critical thinking across the board and across our county.” said Summer's mom Shaista.

Summer knows that she has to be good at math in order to do science, and recognizes that is why science is hard for some kids. She hopes Fairfax County will recognize that students need more hands-on science learning in school.

As for Summer’s mom, she is ecstatic that her daughter loves STEM subjects so much.

“It’s a mom’s dream come true to have a math and science girl,” she said. “It’s been so successful it’s overwhelming.”