Farmington Teacher Challenges Girls to Consider Careers in Tech Fields
Heidi Skodack, Farmington High School teacher, leads Tech Girls, coaches the robotics team and works with Project Lead The Way, a national science and technology program.
Heidi Skodack waves and gives hugs to the students sharing a box of pizza after-hours in the engineering and technology wing tucked into the back of Farmington High School.
She has been a teacher there for 10 years, instructing classes like architecture, engineering and CAD/technology. She is one of the science and technology leaders whom Patch is highlighting in recognition of Women's History Month.
Skodack leads Tech Girls at Farmington High School, a group of high school students who mentor eighth grade girls, to promote girls going into science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.
"There's not enough women going into engineering," she said.
She said a reason girls don't consider STEM fields is they don't know about women role models in those areas.
"The visibility of women in engineering hasn't been as broad as it is now," she said.
The high school mentors in Tech Girls, which started almost 10 years ago, share engineering and design projects with the eighth grade girls, who will rotate through programs to find their fit. Then, their high school "buddies" will guide them when they start high school.
Students are turned off to math, and ultimately engineering, often because they don't understand the real-world application. Skodack said the goal should be to show students at a younger age what engineering is all about.
"Tech Girls has helped, but we could do more," Skodack said.
Skodack's own interest in engineering began early at her childhood home in Cheboygan, MI.
"I was always working with my dad in the garage," she said.
Her father, a machinist and electrician, encouraged her to take design classes in school because he wanted her to learn to apply math and science, she said.
Colleague Says Skodack is 'Gem Among Gems'
That's what students do now through Tech Girls, the Farmington robotics team and the school's new program Project Lead The Way, she said. Skodack is the school's liaison for the Project Lead The Way, a national STEM education curricular program, which started this school year.
"Heidi is a phenomenal teacher — a gem among gems," said Naomi Khalil, director of instructional equity for Farmington Public Schools.
Khalil, who has been Skodack's director for the last four years, said Skodack is innovative and brought Project Lead The Way to the district.
"She's definitely leading our district into the 21st century and beyond," she said.
Students are exposed to the engineering design process and create advanced projects like building a T-shirt launcher or a trash sorter using programming software and sensors.
"It challenges the mind to go places it didn't before," she said.
Skodack also coaches the Hackbots 3414 robotics team, 54 students from Farmington High School, North Farmington High School and Harrison High School. It's her first year coaching, she said, and training sessions can take five days a week.
The 114-pound Hackbots 3414 robot is designed to shoot Frisbees at a target and hold itself up on a ladder, she said. The students placed second at the FIRST Robotics district semifinal in Waterford and will compete again before qualifying for the state competition at Eastern Michigan University.
"They only had six weeks to build the robot," she said.
There is great diversity in the solutions competing teams create to address the same task. Skodack said that's the power of engineering.
"The same problem you solved years ago would be solved differently today," she said.