We Energies employees presented at the 10th annual GEMS (Girls Empowered by Math and Science) Conference at the University of Wisconsin — Parkside. The conference, hosted by Girls Inc. of Southeast Wisconsin, attracted over 450 students from the Racine Unified School District.

The employees conducted workshops to help middle school girls learn about the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in their future careers. Clarice Zellmer, engineering manager, and Elizabeth Ehrke, chief engineer, challenged their classes to explore project engineering concepts by using drinking straws and Scotch tape to build a bridge that would span a 12-inch gap and hold a full 500-mililiter water bottle for 10 seconds.

First-time presenters Laura Halfmann and Francesca Ricchio, both power generation senior training consultants, and Melissa Mueller-Volland, who was a liquefied natural gas (LNG) operator at the time, explored basic electrical concepts with students as they built circuits to power lightbulbs using lemons and potatoes as batteries.

“Interacting with the young ladies was wonderful,” Ricchio said. “Seeing how their excitement grew as they progressed through the experiment, getting their bulbs to shine more brightly with each additional ‘battery,’ was one of the highlights of the day. My co-presenters and I look forward to this becoming a new annual tradition for us.”

Zellmer, who has been a GEMS presenter for 10 years and has partnered with Ehrke for eight, looks forward to the annual opportunity to encourage dozens of middle school girls to develop confidence and competency, and make connections with local educators and community leaders.

“It was rewarding connecting with these budding engineers, as they explored their creative skills, asked great questions, and then boldly stepped to the front of the room to test their bridge in front of their peers,” Zellmer said.

More information is available on the Girls Inc. of Southeast Wisconsin website.