Girls hone technical skills through fashion in STEM program

photo of kidsMiddle-school girls sharpened their skills in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) this summer at the Department of Design and Merchandising’s first Fashion FUNdamentals STEM enrichment program funded by the American Honda Foundation.

The program is founded upon the premise that adolescent girls’ “passion for fashion” can be tapped to nurture their skills in the STEM disciplines and to foster their self-confidence and self-esteem.

Seventy-two girls enrolled in the two-week program that took place June 15 – June 26 in the Gifford Building at CSU. The girls participated at no cost thanks to the American Honda Foundation grant to support the program.

The activities

During the program, each girl created a garment from start to finish: designing and printing the fabric all the way through cutting and sewing the completed product. Along the way, the girls learned about textile science, merchandising math, apparel engineering, and created a store layout in Google SketchUp. These technical programming activities engaged the girls in hands-on application of STEM concepts to develop solutions to real-world problems in the fashion industry.

The girls experimented with equipment from the fashion industry such as 3D body scanning technology and textile design software. They used their math skills to calculate apparel costs and prices and to determine a store’s square footage and percentage of selling space. They even tested fabrics in a textile lab to create care labels for their garments.

“My favorite part has been making my dress pattern because we got to experiment with the fabric printer and different designs on the computer,” said Simantha, 11.

Simantha designed a white dress with simple red roses.

“My mom had red roses at her wedding, that’s why I designed it that way,” she said.

Anika, age 12, also really enjoyed the design phase, and used her family as inspiration for her strawberry-and-lemon pattern and peach-colored fabric.

“I love strawberry lemonade,” Anika said. “It’s my favorite treat to make with my mom and great grandma because we grow strawberries and lemons at home.”

Health and well-being

In addition to the technical side of the program, the girls also participated in workshops aimed at health and well-being. These social programming activities address key issues among adolescent girls, such as body image, media literacy, nutrition, bullying, and Internet safety, in an effort to positively influence girls’ self-esteem as well as their academic performance.

“Research indicates that female students’ interest in math and science often declines during the middle school years, and there also is evidence to suggest that extracurricular programs focused on math and science education can improve adolescent girls’ self-esteem and academic self-efficacy,” said Karen Hyllegard, an associate professor of design and merchandising and Fashion FUNdamentals team member. “For example, the girls calculate the dimensions of a store in order to maximize retail space by determining the percentage of selling space and non-selling space. They also carry out quality-control tests on the fabrics in order to create a care label for their garments.”

The program culminated with a reception and fashion show where the girls got to show off their work.

Fashion FUNdamentals gives girls a place to be creative, continue their education, and beat the heat during summer vacation.

“Summer is boring sometimes, so it’s been great meeting new people and having fun,” said Delaney, 13.

Check out the program’s Flickr page for photos.