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MERRILLVILLE — There was a constant chattering of young voices at NiSource Monday as 175 Girl Scouts descended on the local utility to learn the fundamentals of engineering.

Each year, the Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana participate in a project with female engineers at NIPSCO, who work with the girls on a variety of projects, take them on a tour of the company and talk with them about engineering. The girls came away with an appreciation for teamwork and building something with their own hands.

The event is hosted by NIPSCO and organized by NiSource Inc.'s Developing and Advancing Women at NiSource (DAWN) women's employee resource group and NIPSCO's electrical engineering group.

Dee Hoehler, director of new business at NIPSCO, said they want the girls to enjoy the day, and to take the notion back to their families NIPSCO is more than just the company that sends them a monthly bill.

"I'd like them to see that we want to be involved with communities, with our stakeholders and the children of our community," she said. "We invited them to our 'home' here and we want young girls to see that they can be anything that they want to be. We want to expose them to engineering as a career."

This year's event featured an environmental engineering project, incorporating the three Rs of recycle, reduce and reuse.

The girls were asked to reduce the amount of packaging used in people's everyday lives by planting herbs instead of purchasing pre-packaged items at the grocery store. They were to reuse some household waste items to build the planter for a mini herb garden.

Each team had a bag containing a plant, potting soil and recycled materials such as a milk jug, food containers, egg cartons, art supplies and tools such as string, tape and glue.

The challenge was to build a planter using the materials and the miscellaneous items in each bag. Each group was judged on the functionality of their design, their ability to work as a team and their creativity.

Lake Village Elementary School sixth-grader Lilijana Barron, who was working with a team of girls, said she learned that you don't always have to buy items from the store.

"You can build it yourself. I might want to be an engineer when I grow up. I might even want to be president," she said with a wide grin.

Highland Middle School seventh-grader Jennifer Covello doesn't know what she wants to do as a career, but she's definitely enjoyed the engineering project because "I'm working with a team of people and it's not just on one person."

Another group of students were working with volunteer Samantha Dion, who works in information technology at NiSource.

Dion said this is the fifth year she's been working with the Girl Scouts engineering program, and it's an enjoyable day working with young girls.

The girls wrapped up their mini herb garden, complete with a scarecrow named, "Mr. NIPSCO." 


Education reporter

Carmen is an award-winning journalist who has worked at The Times newspaper for 20 years. Before that she also had stints at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., The Post-Tribune and The News Dispatch in Michigan City.