Simpson faculty encourage girls to view science as cool

By Steffi Lee ‘16

Simpson College and the American Association of University Women (AAUW) recently hosted its fifth Math Magic and Science Secrets day for local third- and fourth- grade girls in an effort to educate students on the benefits of studying math and science.

AAUW promotes equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, philanthropy and research.

Although it was an early Saturday morning, nearly 60 young scientists gathered inside Carver Science Hall excited to begin learning about chemistry, mathematics, biology and geology. You could see the smiles on their faces. For some, this day would be the start of a lifelong career in the sciences.

AAUW promotes equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, philanthropy and research.

The AAUW’s studies on women and girls within STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) have produced discouraging statistics. Joan Overton, a member of the Indianola AAUW said this initiative is to help fix this problem and promote enrollment of girls in those fields.

Overton said AAUW found a decreasing number of girls and women pursuing math and science in high school and college. “As a former high school teacher, I saw that too,” she said, “where girls would get the minimum amount of math even if they were good at it and then they’d stop.”

The group views Simpson as a resource for young students in the Indianola community, with the campus offering them the opportunity to do hands-on research.

Kathie Farris, vice president of AAUW, taught a class on taxonomy and plants, hoping to instill in students the importance of participating in labs.

“A lab that doesn’t work is almost more learning than a lab that does work,” she said. “Labs take a lot of time and I see teachers interested too much in facts.”

Jackie Brittingham, a professor of biology at Simpson, said science outreach, such as volunteering for this program, is one of her main passions as a woman in science. She’s a college professor, but the learning starts early.

“I knew I could do a science presentation at a level that a third- and fourth-grader could understand,” she said.

Brittingham said her colleagues have been gracious in helping out with these efforts. Events such as these help both the city and the college engage in service. As a mother herself, she’s seen the way these learning days can help in her own children.

“I see so many opportunities for (science outreach) that are missed,” she said. “When my kids were in school we would bring them in and we’d visit the giraffe.”

Professor of biology Ryan Rehmeier held a session called “Owls Eat That? Dig to Discover Details on the Diet of Owls.” Derek Lyons, professor of chemistry, held a session on how temperature changes the properties of matter.

At the end of the day, both parents and students were impressed.

Misti Kosman, mother of three, said all three of her daughters have only soared in math and science fields because of this event.

“The experience has been wonderful for my older two, and I’m sure my youngest will come away excited about science and math,” she said.

Kosman said her oldest daughter is now enrolled in Upper Bound and has her sights set on attending college.

Brittingham, Overton and Farris said the culture may present a perception that it’s not cool for women to study science, just the opposite is true.

“This day gives these third- and fourth-grade girls a voice,” Brittingham said.

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