Helping girls get the GIST of science careers

Members of CSUN’s Women in Science Club have joined together to establish an after-school program in an effort to improve the retention of girls in science between middle and high school. Girls in Science and Technology (GIST) STEMmed from a few of us connecting with science teachers at a local middle school while we were volunteering as science fair judges. (See my previous blog post on that science fair here).

Largely led by Hannah Nelson, former WIS president and Melissa Kurman, former outreach coordinator and current president of WIS, a group of 4+ WIS members and award-winning middle school science teacher, Darshana Shah, lead the group of mostly* young women through fun activities each meeting.

We have been celebrating our 3-month GIST anniversary with a Chemistry theme. We deemed this week’s meeting “mad scientist day” and had all sorts of fun chemistry demonstrations – from making dry ice + soap bubbles to learn about sublimation to learning about the chemical structure of polystyrene by combining Styrofoam and acetone.

Here I am demonstrating the power of sublimation by creating a bubble using dry ice and soapy water. (Behind me Sarah is using acetone to break down Styrofoam)

In our conversations with science teachers, we discovered that historically, many talented 8th grade girls who showed interest in the sciences tended to avoid the science-focused high schools for various reasons. In an effort to combat this loss, we chose to create the club to expose the young women to careers they could have in science, to serve as role models and importantly- to bring in established female scientists to speak about their own career paths. As we all know from our personal experiences and research, representation is so important in driving career choices. (Check out this report by the American Association of University Women for more on that).

We aim to act as role models the best way we know how- by being super nerdy and excited about science in front of the group. In these critical years, being seen as “uncool” for liking science, or having math and science abilities doubted by teachers, peers, or parents can have lasting effects on the future careers of young women. (Some of us in WIS know this from personal experience!)

We have all been impressed with the intelligence and enthusiasm of the young women we have gotten to know over the course of the semester. I personally have gained tremendous respect for middle school teachers. The patience, grace and creativity necessary to retain the attention of young students is remarkable.

If you’re looking to be a role model or ally to young women in your own life, I think this article has some great points.

For our end of the semester wrap up, we have invited these young women to visit our campus for a planetarium show. Stay tuned into our GIST club website for updates, photos and directions for our cool chemistry demos!

*We welcome all genders but especially encourage students identifying as female to join.

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