Iowa City Press-Citizen: Proving to Girls that Science Really Is Fun

Saturday, February 1, 2014
Written by Holly Hines
Iowa City Press-Citizen


Increasing girls’ access to science-related activities is a focus for the Women in Science and Engineering Program at the University of Iowa this year, leaders in the program say.

Samantha Vancel, staff adviser of Women in Science and Engineering Ambassadors, said this is the first year that organizers of the annual W.I.S.E. Girl Scout Badge Days science event included a group of non-Girl Scouts, including girls who are home-schooled and students who attend Willowwind School in Iowa City.

Vancel said the group decided to include home-schooled girls this year after a parent inquiry.

Some home-schooled students may not have much access to science activities, equipment and labs, she said.

“I think they’re a forgotten population in a lot of ways,” Vancel said.

During the Girl Scout Badge Days event Saturday at the UI Pomerantz Center, about 90 girls in third through sixth grade attended a speech about choosing careers that interest them and then participated in science-related classes, including a lava lamp-making class and a volcano-making class.

Josephine Martin, 9, a home-schooled student who attended the event, said before she came to Girl Scout Badge Days, she wasn’t sure if the science activities would be fun. She said once there, she thought a straw boat-making activity was cool and that she had fun during a bath fizzy-making activity.

“It smelled funny,” she said.

Martin said her mom has taken her to other events like Girl Scout Badge Day in the past.

W.I.S.E. Director Chris Brus said it’s important to reach out to girls who are approaching adolescence because that’s when girls may begin feeling pressured to behave like “young women,” a trait some people may not traditionally associate with being a scientist.

“That is when stereotypes start hitting,” Brus said.

She said between fourth and fifth grade, the number of girls who report being interested in science tends to drop, and girls’ test scores in this area may begin declining as well.

“We need to help them see that science, as they work up the ladder, is not inconsistent with being a girl,” she said.

Brus said W.I.S.E. plans to continue reaching out to underserved populations in the area of science and lab work, including home-schooled students.

One way they plan to do this, she said, is by working with UI College of Engineering professor Ibrahim Ozbolat, who recently received a National Science Foundation grant. W.I.S.E. plans to create a pilot program this summer for students with low access to lab space and equipment using money in the grant earmarked for community outreach.

Meredith Godar, president of W.I.S.E. Ambassadors, a UI undergraduate student branch of W.I.S.E., said she thinks it’s important for men and women to participate in science fields because different genders can bring different ideas to the table.

She said as an electrical and computer science engineering student, she estimates more than two-thirds of of the students in her program are men, though she’s also noticed that science fields are becoming more inclusive of both genders.

She said the goal of Saturday’s event was to expose young girls to science and teach them about science concepts, such as density and chemical reactions, in entertaining ways.

“To kind of show them, you know, that it can be fun,” she said.