We Energies employees are firing up middle school girls to dive headfirst into the exciting world of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Five women from the company recently presented STEM concepts at the 11th annual GEMS (Girls Empowered by Math and Science) Conference at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.

Girls Inc. of Southeast Wisconsin hosted over 500 eighth-grade students from the Racine Unified School District. Each STEM session engaged girls in hands-on workshops. Participants also attended Q&A sessions with high school girls and women pursuing STEM careers.

Laura Halfmann and Fran Ricchio, both We Energies Power Generation employees, and Melissa Mueller-Voland, in Customer Service and Operations, combined mathematics and art in a “MathArt Mashup.” Girls in this workshop explored the “golden ratio” and how it appears in art, architecture, music, advertising and design. Students learned that this mathematical concept is inherent in the human form and in many other natural shapes such as snail shells, hurricanes and our galaxy. The girls applied the golden ratio to portraiture by mapping the proportions of the human face.

“We threw a lot at these students in a short amount of time — history, ratios, calculations and measurements,” Halfmann said. “We were so impressed by how they applied themselves to the lesson and created really remarkable portraits.”

Power Generation employees Elizabeth Ehrke and Clarice Zellmer challenged their classes to explore project engineering concepts by using drinking straws and Scotch tape to build a bridge that would span an 11-inch gap and hold a full 500-milliliter water bottle for 10 seconds. Ehrke and Zellmer, who have been GEMS presenters for many years, enjoy planting seeds of confidence in the minds of middle school girls and also connecting with local educators and community leaders.

“Everyone had so much fun in these workshops,” Zellmer said. “Even the volunteer helpers asked questions and wanted to explore the concepts that we presented.”

This event is the largest of its kind in the country. For more information, go to the Girls Inc. of Southeast Wisconsin website.