The Future is Now – Loureiro, The Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame, and STEMFems
Loureiro’s Holly Schipper and Sloane Putnam showed up to the New Beginnings Family Academy in Bridgeport with the trunks of their cars filled with materials for a classroom experiment, including jugs of water directly from the Farmington River. They were presenting a discussion on wastewater engineering, followed by a demonstration and a hands-on activity for a roomful of female middle school students for the latest STEMFems: Women Transforming Our World event, an educational program and hands-on STEM day with female professionals put on by the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame.
As natural born leaders that share a passion for outreach, Holly and Sloane were excited for the opportunity to speak to a group of young women about their experiences.
“It’s so important to put yourself in a position to have new experiences and ask questions,” says Holly. “Women don’t always know the avenues that exist. I want to be able to help with that.”
“It’s all about creating fun and interactive events where students can learn about something from people that they can relate to,” adds Sloane. “We are living examples of underrepresented demographics that can show you that a STEM career can be a reality.”
Loureiro & The Hall
Loureiro has long been a supporter of the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame, a Hartford based educational outreach organization. It’s the Hall of Fame’s mission to honor the achievements of Connecticut women by preserving their stories, sharing them with the public, and inspiring younger generations of women to realize their own potential and follow their dreams. They embrace this mission through educational programs, scholarships, exhibits, and other resources that bring the history of Connecticut women to the forefront.
“Loureiro has always recognized women as an invaluable part of the team,” says Kate Engler, Vice President of Loureiro’s Environmental Assessment Division. “We know how important it is to raise women up, and our partnership with the Women’s Hall of Fame shows our dedication to promoting the role of women in our community while also encouraging girls to pursue their dreams in non-traditional fields like engineering and construction.”
Kate Engler is no stranger to outreach programs. While in grad school, Kate coordinated a program that encouraged young women to get involved in STEM fields. When she joined Loureiro in 2020, she was excited to learn about Loureiro’s involvement with the CT Women’s Hall of Fame, and was proud to be a part of an organization that strives to make a positive impact on the community. Kate currently serves on the board of Trustees for the Hall and is focused on expanding membership. She is also Chairing the Inductee Engagement Committee.
“One of the ways we support the Hall of Fame’s mission is by participating in their STEMFems events. These are outreach programs at middle schools that can show young women, that 11-13 age, a role model of what they can do with their career if they want to go into the science and engineering fields. Our goal is to present these young women with a very attainable role model. Someone they can see themselves being when they grow up.”
The Future, Now
Enter Holly, a scientist in Loureiro’s Environmental Health and Safety Division, and Sloane, an Engineer in the Facilities Engineering Department – both recent graduates of UCONN in their first year working at Loureiro full time.
The opportunity to speak to a room of young women about her career interested Sloane, noting that she was inspired by the many strong female role models she has in her life, and nods to the lineage of matriarchs in her family when she considers what brought about her passion for outreach.
“My Mom is a dentist and is in the military, and both of my grandmothers went to college, which isn’t always common. They both have STEM degrees. One grandmother is a microbiologist, the other in computer science. I’m happy to have continued the tradition,” says Sloane. She says that she’s reached a point in her career where she’s trying to figure out where she fits in and what her strengths are. “One thing that comes naturally to me is talking with people, so if I can play a mentorship role with the younger generation I’m all about ensuring their prosperity.”
Holly and Sloane made sure to talk to the teachers before putting their ideas together. They wanted to know what the students were interested in, which turned out to be more hands-on experiments.
“I think that’s true for science from the beginning,” says Holly. “My mom is a teacher and she says the same: one of the best ways to learn is through hands-on activities and applications. Even in grad school I could learn conceptually difficult things, but it was when I was physically doing the experiments and the research behind it that it started to click and become more interesting.”
Holly and Sloane started by introducing waste water engineering, discussing the difference between an influent (dirty water coming into the system) and an effluent (cleaning water leaving the system, also called the discharge). They discussed regulation, or the limits set by the government on what can / cannot be in the discharge, and brought along a Proctor & Gamble Water Purification packet and demonstrated how the packet, containing ferric sulfate (a flocculant) and calcium hypochlorite (a disinfectant) work to inactivate microorganisms, a process of particulate filtration to remove solids and dissolved contaminants from the water.
Then they had the students make their own dirty water – a combination of moss, dirt, and pebbles that they mixed up in cups with water. The students were then given tools to design a wastewater engineering system, including two water bottles, some cheesecloth, and some activated carbon. After assembling the bottles, lining the bottom of the bottle with cheesecloth, and pouring in the activated carbon, they witnessed water purification in real time.
Holly and Sloane’s goal was for the students to make connections to real world applications through the experiments.
“My Mom’s background as a teacher taught me to ask the right questions and to bring real life events into your discussions,” says Holly. “Making connections to the everyday world makes things easier to understand and makes them more memorable. We wanted to be able to make sure that kids could connect this stuff to broader environmental concerns and help them connect the dots and guide them towards questions. We wanted to present some basic ideas behind sustainable and safe chemistry for the environment.”
For Sloane, it was an opportunity to share her passion for the environment, stating that when she was younger she had a natural inclination towards chemistry. When it came time to apply for colleges, Sloane thought engineering seemed like a good fit as it merged passions and interests.
“I’m interested in chemistry, and I’m passionate about the environment. I wanted to work in the environmental sector. It’s a personal interest, but it also motivates me. I want to contribute to future generations so that they have a safe place to live. Wanting to make sure I’m not contributing to the greater problem, and dedicating my career and life to it. If I can help someone else, someone like me, to see a path, a direction, then I feel like I’ve done a good job.”
At the end of the day, Holly and Sloane were able to talk with the young women about what they learned, and answer questions about what they would need to do to get into the STEM fields.
“They asked a lot of questions,” says Holly, “and that made me feel good and was probably my favorite part. They were engaged, and asked what schools offer programs in engineering and science. They wanted to know how they could apply what they learned today to their lives.”
“The whole day was inspiring,” says Sloane, noting that the morning started with a gathering of the students and representatives from Avangrid and Medtronic to watch a presentation from the CT Women’s Hall of Fame, which gave examples of female inventors and entrants into the Hall of Fame.
“Often when you think about great inventors you’re automatically thinking of Benjamin Franklin or Tesla. To see several different women inventors named, and then be able to work with these young women on an experiment and see how it clicked with them made for an inspiring day. I’m looking forward to the next event.”