By Nancy Whitney
Kate Vinson is more than just a SMARTgirl and a Future Problem Solving star; she is an innovator and forward thinker. The incoming 7th grader at McMillan Junior High School recently won 1st Place in the Junior Division Community Problem Solving Individual Competition at the Future Problem Solvers International Conference. The event was held at Iowa University.
The competition included over 1500 students from 31 states and 13 countries. Overall, there were about 60 projects in the Community Problem Solvers and about 15 students in the individual with different categories. Kate won the Education division at the international level following her state level win where she took grand champion for her age division (4th-6th grade). She also received the most innovative project of all the age divisions including the teams and individuals. It was that win which sent her to the international conference.
During the FPS conference, Kate presented her idea, the SMARTgirls, to the board. She displayed an overview of the project and some of the activities they did with the girls. Kate was interviewed and judged on her presentation board. In addition, there was a two- hour project fair where she spoke to attendees and judges about SMARTgirls as they looked at her display.
“You have seen a need to help girls find the role they can play in the STEM studies and careers,” a judge at the conference told Kate. “ You have not just complained about the lack of encouragement in these areas, but you have done something about it. You have done a good job of helping to provide opportunities and involving a lot of girls in the learning process.”
Kate’s project took form following an introduction by her father, Superintendent David Vinson, to Kent Novak from Texas Instruments. She had recently grown discouraged with engineering, a topic she had enjoyed for quite some time.
“He gave me a tour of his Digital Light Processing lab and encouraged me to keep trying in engineering. He told me there weren’t enough girls working in engineering,” Kate said. “I went home and started researching and found out that only 24 percent of STEM employees are girls, and in engineering only 16 percent. Then I found that 66 percent of girls my age say they like science, but by the time they get to high school they don’t choose advanced math and science.”
Kate began talking to her Future Problem Solving teacher, Ann Darby, about starting a STEM summer camp for girls. The idea met the community project parameters for FPS and would help meet a need that she felt was important for young girls interested in STEM.
“I had to completely document everything we did from fundraising and advertising, to meetings with teachers and sponsors,” she said. “We had to keep track of all the girls, turn in a scrapbook of the year – ours had about 65-70 pages, and turn in a six-page essay describing everything we did including a time line of our planning and implementing of the camps and clubs, a mini scrapbook, a 90 second PSA and a five minute video.”
Kate said she had a lot of help from her teachers, Ann Darby and Karen Jordan, Principal Barbara Rudolph and Assistant Principal Christa Smyder, her parents and brother Cal. Her aunt taught some of the camp, along with Alan Hasty, an engineer from Paragon Innovations. Additional faculty assisting included Lawanna Cheshire and Isabel Robles plus speakers and high school volunteers during the summer camp.
The week-long summer camp began last year with about 30 girls participating. The group learned about electrical, aerospace, chemical and optical engineering, computer science and robotics.
“We had fun hands-on projects, neat experiments, cool speakers and even launched rockets,” she said. “We also went on a tour of Paragon Innovations, an engineering firm in Richardson, owned by Mike and Sandy Wilkinson. They were so fun and showed us all types of projects and introduced us to all the engineers.”
The Wilkinson’s told the girls they only had one girl working there and she was one of the owners.
Following the conclusion of camp, the group decided they didn’t want to wait another year to meet and decided to start an afterschool club.
Approximately 50 girls signed up for eight club dates. They focused on, medicine, math and environmental sciences. In the spring, clubs at Draper and Harrison Intermediate were formed.
Kate said they hope to start the clubs at the junior high schools in the fall.
Future Problem Solving Program International is a program that provides tools and strategies students need to face the challenges of today and the future. Participants are taught to think systematically about problematic situations, to gather information to understand the situation, and to evaluate multiple solutions in order to best address the situation. Students involved in Community Problem Solving learn lessons about creating change, about dealing with local authorities and organizations, and about making a positive impact.
Kate lives in Wylie with her parents, David and Cristy, and brother Cal.
This summer four camps are offered: STEM Camp, Robotics Camp, Pre-Medicine Camp and a boy’s robotics camp.