At Wesleyan’s “Girls In Science Camp”, Women Are The Scientists Of The Future

By Kathleen McWilliams
The Hartford Courant

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) The camp features different women faculty members at Wesleyan and also an array of undergraduates and high school students who help teach the lessons to campers.

The Hartford Courant

Recently, girls attending Wesleyan University and Middletown Public School’s Girls in Science camp were asked to draw a scientist. Many drew Albert Einstein or mad scientists sporting smoking beakers and crazy mustaches.

Only a handful drew women.

The week-long camp, now in its sixth year, gives more than 30 girls in 4th, 5th and 6th grade the opportunity to learn about women scientists, participate in hands on learning activities and tour Wesleyan’s scientific facilities.

By the end of the week, when the girls are asked to draw another picture of a scientist, all of them will depict women, said Erika Taylor, the camp’s founder.

“We’re just trying to break that stereotype,” Taylor said. “Once you’re exposed to it, it’s broken.”

Each day camp starts with a presentation about women in science and a lesson on the topic of the day. The camp is run by Wesleyan women faculty from the biology, chemistry and engineering departments.

Over the course of the week, campers will have learned about everything from where bacteria grows best to all the different parts of the brain. After the science lesson, the girls do a hands-on project that applies what they learned to a scientific experiment and visit different laboratories on Wesleyan’s campus.

Campers learned about light, color, and energy before building solar powered cars. Renee Sher, assistant professor of physics, coached the girls through assembling the cars and encouraged them to try new things and reassess their strategy when they encountered obstacles.

“We want them to be testing it out along the way,” Sher said. “A lot of science is correcting your mistakes and finding out what works.”

Cries of “I got it!” and “yay, it worked!” and “that’s so cool” filled the chemistry laboratory Tuesday afternoon as the girls’ cars traveled across the floors and tables, powered only by a strong light and a solar panel.

“It’s really fun,” Ariyana Dorval, 11, said. “My favorite part of camp is building things.”

Ariyana, who will start 6th grade at Keigwin Middle School in Middletown in a few weeks, said she hasn’t had a lot of opportunities to build anything outside of Girls in Science camp.

“This is new,” she said. “I love science because it’s fun and you can do a lot of things.”

Ariyana said she hopes she can pursue a career in food science, like scientist Alice Catherine Evans who discovered raw milk needed to be pasteurized to prevent the spread of disease.

“There was a girl who made milk safe to drink. I’d want to do that,” Ariyana said, referencing the women in science power point from earlier that morning.

The camp is a partnership between Wesleyan and Middletown Public Schools and about 50% of the students are on scholarships to ensure equitable access to educational opportunities, Taylor said.

The goal of the camp isn’t just to teach girls science, but to get them to imagine a future where they could be working in a laboratory or pursuing a doctorate degree in science. According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, only 30% of the world’s scientific researchers are women.

“The camp started in the hope that it would help women stay involved in science,” Taylor said. “We see a bottleneck in Middle School. In elementary school girls still love science, but in Middle School they aren’t connecting with it as much. We want to expose them not only to the science, but to role models.”

The camp features different women faculty members at Wesleyan and also an array of undergraduates and high school students who help teach the lessons. Taylor said this inter-generational model of teaching gives the girls layers of role models who they can connect with and look up to.
“We wanted to make sure the faculty are diverse and that the undergraduates are diverse and that the high school students are diverse,” Taylor said. “So that the girls know they all belong here and they can imagine a different future.
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