PLP Passport Project: Putting the Femme in STEM!

Nearly 60 more young girls have turned to the dark side.

No, they haven’t joined ISIS, the Sith, or decided to exclusively listen to Pink Floyd. We’re talking dark matter, black holes, supernovae, forensic science, medieval warfare, artificial intelligence, gene selection, and math. All the things that could really kill you – especially the math. That’s right, Femme in STEM returned this spring for more science action!

On April 30th, we were thrilled to welcome nearly 60 young women to campus for a high-energy day of learning and teaching. DU’s own Dr. Jennifer Hoffman kicked things off to an exciting start, setting a positive tone for what it means for anyone to be a scientist. We then broke the girls up into six different groups. In this iteration of Put the Femme In STEM, we were able to offer a broader array of subjects: including physics, mathematics, computer science, engineering, chemistry, and biology.

Each group was led by a graduate/undergraduate woman studying in each field. The girls spent the morning with them, gaining a better understanding of how science was involved in programming a simple computer game, analyzing forensic evidence, or reading minds with math. After a crowd-pleasing trip to the dining hall (i.e. many trips to the ice cream machine inside the dining hall), we transformed Driscoll Ballroom into a high-energy science fair.

In many ways, this was the most important part of our event–whether or not they remember exactly what “phenotype” means, the science fair gave the girls a chance to actually see themselves “doing” science. Half of each team remained at their station to explain their activity to their peers, while the other half traveled around and learned about the other branches of STEM. Many catapults were launched, frozen rubber balls were shattered, and a crime was solved. Half way through the girls switched roles, and more fantastic, chaotic science ensued.

Hearing some of the complicated, well-thought-out questions in our closing session confirmed that we were able to impart a little scientific knowledge throughout the day, but some of the comments left on our post-event survey revealed we were able to make a little bit of a deeper change.

Girl after girl on her post-event survey commented that she “LOVED the science fair”, that it was so fun to “show others what [she] learned” and to “see what everyone else did”. Our mission in this was accomplished, that the girls really got the chance to demonstrate their knowledge and to “see everything different about STEM at the science fair”. These comments, among many others, are evidence that our girls were beginning to grasp the scope of STEM and beginning to see themselves as part of it, and that is everything our little STEMinist hearts could possibly want. When we asked the girls what we could improve about the event, the most resounding comment was written in all caps: “MAKE IT LAST LONGER!”

As we said, 60 more young minds felt the alluring pull of STEM like the proverbial sodium to chlorine with an ionic bond made of knowledge. Whether they become the next Ada Lovelace or Beyoncé with better than average scientific literacy, these girls know, at least for now, they can do anything they have a passion for. On this dark side we occasionally have cookies (or ice cream), but we always push boundaries, make discoveries, and make sure everyone has a seat at the table. Thank you to the PLP Passport Fund as without your support, no change would have been initiated. So we’ll say it again, to all those STEMinists out there, “Boldly go, girlfriend!”

Blog post written by: Sierra Ashley, Maddie Doering, Brian Ketterman, Faith Lierheimer, & McKenzie Ramirez

This project was made possible through the awarding of a Passport Grant made possible by the generous contributions of PLP Alumni and Friends. Thank you to all who empower PLPers to do amazing things!

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