CONCORD — Who says girls aren't interested in math and science?
Wednesday was Girls Technology Day at New Hampshire Technical Institute, and more than 200 girls from 17 New Hampshire middle and high schools spent the day exploring a variety of technology and engineering fields.
Leighanne Springer, a marine machinery mechanic at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, taught a reverse engineering workshop with some of her female co-workers, letting the students take stuff apart— and try to put it back together. The shipyard was one of more than a dozen employers, technology companies and educational institutions that sponsored the day's workshops and exhibits.
"I'm hoping that they'll learn that just because they're a girl and just because it's always been a male job, it doesn't have to be," Springer said. "You are just as good as a man to do this job."
Dover High School teacher Jen Cove brought her students from the school's first all-girls exploratory engineering class. "We want them to meet the real-live role models that are out there," she said.
There certainly were plenty of them on hand.
Jennifer Ouellette, a welder apprentice at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, was showing students how to operate a "virtual welding" machine. "I think it's good for girls to broaden their horizons and step outside the conventional box of what a girl is supposed to do," she said.
"We can fix things; we can make things; we can weld. We can do anything a guy can do," she said.
"Usually better," her male co-worker Chris Clark chimed in.
Clark said the shipyard historically has not been a "woman-friendly" environment. But he said, "We're trying to break that stereotype."
Emily Edwards, a sophomore at Nashua High School North, stopped by the college and industry fair held during the lunch break. Catherine Dill, a nuclear engineer who is the shipyard's diversity and inclusion program manager, showed her how to operate a "hand pod" from an atmospheric diving suit.
Dill said she likes to explain to girls that engineering at its heart is about problem solving. "Don't think about it as math and science," she said. "Look around you: All the stuff you have today, an engineer made it possible."
Edwards said she wants to go into video game design, a field that's been dominated by males. "I've had a game idea ever since I was 10 years old," she said.
Justyn Constant, vice president at Technology Education Concepts, was showing Caitlin Galea, a freshman at Con-Val High in Peterborough, how to use a digital microscope. "The great thing about this new technology is that it's exciting," Constant said. "So they see opportunities for themselves."
Angeliz Lopez and Sachel Velez, students at Manchester School of Technology, said they were happy they were chosen to attend Technology Day. "It kind of encourages us to do things like this," said Lopez, who wants to study computer design.
Velez, who likes working on cars and wants to go into collision repair, said attending the technology day was a chance to "take a stand — show guys not only guys can do it, but us females too."
Mary Laturnau, who works in the career development bureau at the state Department of Education, coordinated the day's activities. Last year was the first time such an event was held, and Laturnau said she expected to have 20 girls and three workshops.
"We ended up with 147 girls and 10 workshops — with 100 kids on a waiting list," she said.
Typically, just 12 percent of students in engineering and computer science classes are female, Laturnau said; she wants to change that. "We want to expose the girls to new careers," she said.
Ouellette said she "got stuck" in English and art classes at college and then decided she wanted a job where she could work with her hands. She later learned she was the third generation in her family to work at the shipyard.
"I don't think there's a greater responsibility than to be welding on a submarine," she said. "These people go out to sea, where it really is a matter of life and death. It gives your job meaning."
Springer said being a mechanic doesn't mean you can't also be "a lady."
"I may be covered in grease one hour, but come suppertime, if I'm going out, I clean up real good," she said with a wicked grin.