UC Program Promotes Science Careers To Young Girls

The students were younger looking than usual on UC's campus March 8 as 60 sixth-grade girls shared in hands-on demonstrations as part of the Showcase of UC Women Scientists. The event was yet another chapter in an outreach program with Columbia Elementary in Kings Mills and St. Teresa School in Price Hill. Organizer Margaret Hanson, UC assistant professor of physics and member of the American Association of University Women, says the goal is to build the number of women entering the science profession by reaching out to girls at this critical age, when they're still exploring their interests. Moms were invited along, too, to reinforce the message.

Hanson said more than a dozen UC women scientists worked the weekend to plan activities and open their labs to the sixth graders. The hands-on presentations covered four main areas: biology, chemistry, geology and engineering.

"I saw an earthquake and the bones of a cat!" said St. Teresa sixth grader Kaitlyn Bedel. "They took different chemicals and made nylon," continued Kaitlyn's mother, Peggy. "I have hers in my purse. It looks just like a stocking."

 "They showed us rats and showed how they grew," said St. Teresa classmate Alli Ruth. "The rats on the low protein diet were smaller, but they were more active than the rats on the regular diet. They got bigger."

Kaitlyn Bedel checks out the wind tunnel.

Kaitlyn Bedel checks out the wind tunnel.

The Showcase of UC Women Scientists was initiated by a committee from the Cincinnati branch of the American Association of University Women, and sponsored by the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Engineering.

At the College of Engineering, students got a look at aerospace engineering with an up-close view of a rocket engine that's like the engine that carried the Viking probe to Mars. Carol Schababerle, director of the Rowe Center for Women in Engineering, guided students through the engineering lab as Russell DiMicco, senior research associate, demonstrated the technology.

The College of Engineering wind tunnel was another favorite with the students, as well as the smoke chamber where students tested the air flow patterns. The students cut out patterns in Styrofoam which they inserted into the smoke chamber. They could see differences as the air, traced by lines of smoke, moved around their objects, demonstrating turbulent and smooth flow.

"The impetus is to try and show the girls and their mothers that women do science and that there are many fascinating areas in science to study. Meeting women scientists allows the girls to better visualize themselves as becoming scientists," explained Hanson. "We're trying to sow a few seeds of thought. We've been working with the girls from these two schools all year."

In addition to monthly school visits, the AAUW group has taken the students on a field trip to Caesar Creek, where they searched for fossils, learned about pollution in rivers and lakes, and learned how to use a compass.

Parent Debbie Ruth, whose son Scott graduated from UC with a marketing degree last June, says the program has fueled her daughter Alli's interest in science. Alli said her favorite topic Saturday was geology, where the students examined fossils and learned about earthquakes and volcanoes.

"I think this is great," said Debbie Ruth. "You know, when I graduated from high school, we (women) had three choices of what we wanted to be: a secretary, nurse or teacher. This really opens the window, and we've been asking about career choices."

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