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Many students are deterred from pursuing careers in STEM because of the popular misconception that anything that involves math or science is inherently mundane. We were given an opportunity to tackle this issue at camp this week with the help of an accomplished artist by the name of Molly Allis. Our activity at camp was based on her installation called “The Storytelling Machine,” which was a series of dioramas created using wood, cardboard, and strategically engineered simple machines that allowed viewers to interact with a bilingual children’s story by making the characters and objects move.

We sat the girls down and had them think of a story that always makes them laugh or smile. Then we asked them to describe the setting of their stories in vivid detail – Who was there? What time of the year was it? What color were your surroundings? Next, we asked the girls to use this information to sketch blueprints for their very own storytelling machines. We laid out cardboard boxes, recycled wood, and a motley of arts and crafts essentials and let the girls bring their stories to life.

Allis actually came to camp and assisted the girls in creating their storytelling machines. With her assistance, the girls were creating levers, repurposing buttons to create miniature tables, and meticulously measuring strips of felt and carving shapes out of cardboard to create dancing cartoon renditions of themselves. I had never seen people get so creative with as little as some hot glue, cardboard and construction paper. The girls unknowingly dove head first into the world of mechanical engineering by bringing their stories to life. They were building complex structures with their bare hands and manipulating their material to create something out of nothing.

We wanted to show the girls that pursuing their interests in STEM didn’t mean they had to abandon their creativity. In fact, being able to think outside of the box and possessing the ability to transform your ideas from a concept to something tangible is a crucial component of being a successful engineer. The creative skills the girls already possess can be applied to a broader spectrum of career paths than they could have ever imagined, and I hope that their storytelling machines serve as a reminder that STEM and art are anything but mutually exclusive.