Middle schoolers explore the possibilities of STEM at Florida Poly

Feb 13, 2023
Anamarie Medina attends a STEM event

Anamarie Medina, a seventh grader at Academy Prep Center of Lakeland, attends a STEM event at Florida Polytechnic University celebrating International Day of Women and Girls in Science.

Florida Polytechnic University hosted the female student body of Academy Prep Center of Lakeland on Feb. 13 to open their eyes to the fields of STEM and show them what’s possible if they follow their ambitions.

“This is important because young ladies need to realize that this can be their future – they’d be surrounded with people who are similar to them and want to support them,” said event organizer Dr. Susan LeFrancois, assistant professor of data science and business analytics at Florida Poly. 

The annual event was in celebration of International Day of Women and Girls in Science. It included presentations from accomplished women in STEM fields, including Dr. Sanna Siddiqui, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Florida Poly; Dr. Elaine Thompson, CEO of West Central Florida YMCA; Dr. Laine Powell, Florida Poly trustee and executive director of Tech Sassy Girlz; Ana Wood, waste and recycling director for the Polk County Board of County Commissioners and member of the Florida Poly Foundation Board. 

“We are proud to have these strong women from diverse backgrounds providing advice and activities to the students,” LeFrancois said. “These women are leaders in their fields and can discuss the challenges they experienced in their individual paths. These shared discussions will help guide the students on their path to college and beyond."

Sarah Alzate, a sixth-grader at Academy Prep, said she was excited about the day’s activities.

“During the tour, I noticed one thing that stood apart from all the other things and that I loved the most – the chemistry lab,” said Alzate, who hopes to one day be a biologist. “I was thinking that if you came here, you would be able to use all those types of tools and learn about them.”

The students savored their first taste of life on a college campus and participated in a STEM activity with Florida Poly students who helped them build small catapults.

“I think this is very inspiring,” said Anamarie Medina, a seventh-grader at Academy Prep. “I think it helps us because here they focus on STEM, like the science and math and the technology, and how they do it.”

“I really love this school,” added Zuleh Zayas, an eighth-grader at Academy Prep. “This is my first college campus visit and it’s amazing. The activities we are doing are a lot of fun.”

Jessica Hokanson, Academy Prep’s seventh- and eighth-grade science teacher, said she was happy to be back for a second year of the women and girls in STEM experience. The school serves underprivileged students. 

“This is an opportunity these kids wouldn’t get anywhere else because they come from homes that primarily their parents can’t afford to give them these opportunities,” Hokanson said. “Unless the students are exposed to it, there’s no way they’d even know STEM is a possibility and they may not see themselves in that position.

“This helps them see that they can actually do that themselves.”


Lydia Guzmán
Director of Communications