Tennessee Valley Authority land surveyors Eric Donan, left, and Jeremiah Mcmichen, right, demonstrate GPS surveying equipment to Jada Brown, second from left, Zapouria Wadley, Maya Johnson and Sarah Lewis outside of the TVA headquarters on Tuesday, June 13, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Brown, from Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences, Wadley, from Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy, and Lewis, from Chattanooga Center for Creative Arts, are part of the STEM summer enrichment program. Johnson is a participant in the CADnet school-to-work program.
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Bethany Butler, a Tennessee Valley Authority transmission line engineer, discusses line tension during the STEM summer enrichment program at the TVA headquarters on Tuesday, June 13, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

A group of high school girls is getting some valuable hands-on work experience through a Tennessee Valley Authority summer enrichment program.

The science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) program gives girls an opportunity to apply the skills and knowledge they've learned in class to a professional work environment. This is the second year TVA is hosting the STEM program.

"We had challenges finding girls who wanted to participate in our other school-to-work programs," said Janice Horn, organizer of the STEM program.

Nine girls from four high schools — Center for Creative Arts, Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences, STEM School Chattanooga and Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy — participated this year. The girls, most age 15, had to apply and meet certain requirements, in addition to having two recommendation letters to be accepted into the program.

"TVA helps them see how science and math is applied in real-life situations," Horn said. "Knowledge and exposure is key in getting skills to help you find a job."

Anusha Aswath, an upcoming sophomore at CSAS, stayed behind to attend the STEM program while her family traveled to India to visit her extended family.

"My mom said it was up to me," she said. "She told me I could go with them or stay here to see if it's something I liked."

So far, Aswath said, she's been intrigued by the building and design aspects involved in the field of civil engineering.

The two-week Tennessee Valley Authority program started June 5 and ends Friday. Girls arrive at 8 a.m. and stay until 4 p.m., Monday-Friday. On Tuesday, girls were separated into groups of three to learn about siting, surveying and line engineering.

Part of what siting involves is figuring out how to route power lines through or around obstacles, such as environmental layout or property lines. Girls in the group were tasked with routing a power line from one point to another while avoiding wetlands, national forests and private property.

Kim Matson, also an upcoming sophomore at CSAS, said siting was her favorite assignment thus far.

"I want to be an environmental lawyer, and the engineers have to take into consideration all of the environmental impact the lines may have," she said. "They work so hard to put the environment first."

In the surveying group, girls used a device mounted on a tripod to help them calculate the height of an object by using lasers. First, they use trigonometry to calculate the height by hand. Then they use computer programs to calculate the exact height. After that, they compare their results to see how close they got to the exact measurement. Surveying is used to create maps, locate trees at risk of falling on power lines, and much more.

Girls learned how the line engineers work with other teams to design transmission towers, decide where to put poles and determine proper line tension, while ensuring the work is the most efficient, cost-effective course of action. Then the girls applied what they learned in a hands-on activity in which they were tasked with building model transmission towers and determining suitable line tension.

Apart from applying the skills they already have, girls are taught soft skills — such as résumé building and interviewing.

"I love to solve problems and puzzles," said Joana Gonzales, an upcoming sophomore at CGLA. "I wanted to have more hands-on experience. I feel like that's what STEM is about — hands-on experience in real-life situations."

Contact staff writer Rosana Hughes at or 423-757-6327. Follow her on Twitter @HughesRosana.