STEM enrichment program teaches middle school girls about science through the lens of fashion

Video by Allie Ruckman

Colorado State University’s Department of Design and Merchandising welcomed middle school girls from the Front Range community to expand their knowledge in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) through fashion at the Fashion FUNdamentals summer program June 11-22.

“When girls are able to connect STEM learning to experiences that they find personally meaningful, then learning really comes alive,” Professor and Co-Director of Fashion FUNdamentals Jen Ogle said.

The program sessions incorporated both technical programming and social programming. With technical programming, girls engaged in hands-on activities designed to advance their interest in STEM learning. Social programming was developed to address issues of concern among young adolescent girls. According to Ogle, social programming “positively influences girls’ self-confidence and self-esteem, which in turn positively impacts their academic performance.”

From the laboratory to the runway

Middle school girls look at dresses through the decades at the Fashion FUNdamentals camp.
The Fashion FUNdamentals participants examined historic textiles at the Avenir Museum of Design and Merchandising.

One of the primary objectives of the program is to give the girls a refreshing perspective on STEM learning by applying STEM concepts to solve problems in fashion. As such, the Fashion FUNdamentals participants learned that the fashion industry requires skill in science, technology, engineering, and math as well as creativity.

“My favorite part of Fashion FUNdamentals was being able to create my own dress and know the science behind how they are made,” one of the program participants said.

The girls used microscopes to examine the physical structure of fibers and textiles, created original textile designs using Lectra computer software and the digital textile printer, and used a 3-D body scanner to generate avatars of their physical forms.

“As a female faculty member, I believe it is important to offer girls the opportunity to explore different disciplines of learning,” Professor and Co-Director Karen Hyllegard said. “They have their whole lives ahead of them and engaging in STEM learning will open up so many doors for them.”

Additionally, the girls applied quantitative reasoning skills to develop merchandise assortment plans for their own hypothetical stores and considered the environmental sustainability of their clothing. They also visited the Avenir Museum of Design and Merchandising to learn about the history of fashion.

Social programming

Fashion FUNdamentals participants took part in cooking at the Kendall Reagan Nutrition Center.
The girls learned about nutrition and cooking at the Kendall Reagan Nutrition Center.

Fashion FUNdamentals not only focused on the classroom and fashion industry, but also helped the girls find inward value with the social programming sessions that emphasized self-appreciation, self-care, and empathy for others.

Social programming units for 2018 included anti-bullying, body image/media literacy, dance/creative movement, internet safety, nutrition, and other group activities designed to build team unity.

The girls particularly enjoyed the nutrition unit, which took place at the Kendall Reagan Nutrition Center, where they displayed their culinary talents while learning the importance of nutrition and leading a healthy life through the food they eat.

“The cooking was awesome; I just really like cooking,” one of the girls said.

Culminating reception

Fashion FUNdamentals culminated with a reception and fashion show at the Avenir Museum in which the girls modeled their exclusive designs to their family and friends. The reception also featured senior lead of tech innovation at Pivotal Ventures, Renee Wittemyer, as keynote speaker.

Three girls pose with their certificates of completion from Fashion FUNdamentals 2018.
At the culminating reception, the girls were given certificates of completion.

Wittemyer praised the Fashion FUNdamentals girls for their abilities to employ creativity and innovation and encouraged the young women with a message of empowerment for whatever they set out to do.

“You can always learn and always get better at what you love doing,” Wittemyer said. “I have seen what these girls are capable of this week, and I’m excited about their futures because they are clearly innovators.”

The Department of Design and Merchandising is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.