Rock Chalk, STEM Hawks!

It’s fall and that means it’s a perfect time to get outdoors and get your hands dirty! For Girl Scouts, this included an exciting STEM day at Camp Tongawood, hosted by KU’s Biology department (the Ecology & Entomology graduate program students), who wanted to do their part in inspiring the next generation. As Andrew Mongue, a grad student lead on the project, said “One of our big motivators with these STEM activities is to provide encouragement and re-spark interest in girls at the critical ages.” Thanks to their work and innovative activities, girls were laughing their way to a love of science.

The University of Kansas (the Jayhawks), worked with Girl Scouts to create a program that not only inspires girls, but provides their grad students an opportunity to interact with kids. With grad programs taking 5-6 years, this community engagement helps keep the students motivated and gives Girl Scouts unique STEM experiences in the most critical time in their lives.

“…it really is a two-way street; I get encouragement from the girls’ excitement. A PhD is a long-term goal (5-6yrs) and at times I can lose sight of the passion that set me down this path. Working with kids who have nothing but pure wonder for the sciences and natural world helps remind me of my own passion for Biology,” Andrew said.

This year KU hosted a bug event where girls were able to capture bugs, look at them up-close and get guidance from Andrew (AKA “Ant-Man”) and Kaila Colyott (AKA “Wasp”). They ran around with nets, got into the creek and captured bugs on the ground. One of the most exciting parts for girls was watching normally sweet dragonflies eat prey in the enclosure!

In October, a larger project with more students from KU joined together for this rotation style STEM expo. Girls got to experience wide range of activities from looking at worms, fish and fungi under microscopes to changing colors with acids and learning about genetics! It was quite the experience for girls.

“…it’s important to develop and promote STEM learning outdoors, like Camp Tongawood. There is a lot of great ecology (read: really cool bugs among other things) in the countryside of Kansas that most people won’t interact with going about their daily routine. These places are great to explore nature are crucial nurturing that curiosity in kids,” Andrew said.

One of the favorite projects was an art project using fish specimens! That’s right! Girls picked a dead fish that had patterns/textures they found interesting and used paint to transfer the patterns on to pieces of white cloth, creating their own art pieces! What a cool way to explore animals and learn about what makes fish so interesting.

The acids and bases activity was a bubbly experience with some real chemistry magic! Adding either a base or an acid to a solution let girls watch it bubble, change colors and even smoke when dry ice was added. Girl Scouts learned about ocean acidification that is a concern for scientists and ways we can go about preventing it. What a colorful way to learn about chemistry.

Thanks to the KU Biology department for their hard work on this expo. Girls were raving about it and were clearly inspired! Together, we can keep inspiring young women to love science and create a bright future in science.

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