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Middle School Girls Learn About Prosthetics at STEAM Camp

Third annual "Girls Explore STEAM" camp was held at Minnesota State Mankato.

Kristine Goodrich, Mankato Free Press, 6-17-2017

Zombies attacked middle school girls at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

Five of the girls lost one of their legs in the attack. Seventeen tweens helped their injured new friends build prosthetic legs out of plastic bottles, duct tape and other scavenged materials.

The pretend apocalypse was a new addition to the third annual Girls Explore STEAM Summer Camp held at Minnesota State Mankato this week.

The camp aims to entice girls to consider futures in science, technology engineering and math, and provides some art enrichment as well.

The camp was provided via a collaboration between the Minnesota Center for Engineering and Manufacturing Excellence, Minnesota State Mankato’s Women’s Center and the Minnesota State Mankato College of Science, Engineering and Technology. It is funded by a grant from Regenerative Medicine Minnesota clinics.

The first two years the camp was a miscellany of STEM activities, according to Women’s Center Assistant Director Renee Turgeon. This year many camp activities revolved around a prosthetics theme.

Representatives of the Hanger Clinic visited camp to provide a show and tell about their work in prosthetics and orthotics.

Minnesota State Mankato seniors Mercedez Johnson and Rebecca O’Hotto spun the apocalypse tale and led the challenge. With only materials they could find around around their house, the campers worked in groups of four to five to design and build a replacement leg of their own.

Loyola sixth-grader Lyndsey Wangsness said the hardest part was deciding on the design. Dakota Meadows sixth-grader Lilian Jaquette said the most challenging aspect was figuring out how to affix the prosthetic to the ‘victim’s’ knee (they bent their lower legs behind them in the simulation). Most of the teams fashioned straps out of yarn that the ‘victims’ held.

They put their creations to the test Friday and received rewards for most durable, most creative and most resourceful. There was a lot of wobbling, but every leg made it down a Minnesota State Mankato Trafton Science Center hallway and back.

While building legs was most of the campers’ favorite part of camp, the participants chose a few different activities as their second favorite.

Medford sixth-grader Ciarra Shanen most enjoyed learning about hydrophylic and hydrophobic substances. West High School ninth-grader Annika Bruns fancied the scavenger hunt that required the campers to solve math problems to unlock clues. Dakota Meadows eighth-grader Ikram Gabri was most excited by learning about sound waves during a physics lesson.

Belle Sautter, a Dakota Meadows seventh-grader and Amelia Kratzke, a seventh-grader at Sibley East, most reveled designing bridges. A Minnesota State Mankato professor and a student talked to them about civil engineering and introduced them to an online bridge designing simulator.

Sautter created a bridge that didn’t collapse on her second try but it would have cost a whopping $22 million to build in real life, she said. Kratzke had so many bridges collapse she lost count but did get one to endure at a smaller price tag.

Anika Rossow Strasser loved the field trips to tour the Mankato Clinic on Main Street as well as Jones Metal. She said she most enjoyed seeing the CT scanner at the clinic and the high-pressure water machine used to cut copper at the women-owned custom metal manufacturing business.

Eleanor Coons-Ruskey, a home-schooled seventh grader, said she has long known she wants to work in veterinary medicine when she grows up. After camp she said she’s now thinking she might like to specialize in animal prosthetics.

Jim Mecklenburg from the Minnesota Center for Engineering and Manufacturing Excellence said he won’t be disappointed if the campers don’t go on to STEM-related careers. He views the camp a success as long as they leave feeling confident about their ability to pursue whatever is their passion.

The entire version of this story can be read in a print copy of the Mankato Free Press. Call the Mankato Free Press at 625-4451 or (800) 657-4662 to find out how to purchase a print copy. The Free Press also prints select stories online at

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