Science conference teaches STEM to girls
By D. Yvonne Folkerson
EPHRAIM—Local professional women hosted the first GEMS (Girls in Engineering, Math and Science) conference last Saturday, Oct. 27, in the new Graham Science Center at Snow College. Over 50 young women of middle and high school age attended the conference, while they rotated through six to seven workshops.
“I love science. I really wanted to do something to help the local girls get excited about science and have role models in science that they can relate to,” said Lindsay Chaney, PhD and assistant professor of biological sciences.
“There can be a lot of barriers for girls and women in pursuing an education or a career in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and I have faced some of those challenges in my life.”
The conference rotated the girls through 20 workshops with professional local women directing each forty minute class.
“We are excited to create engaging workshops that show various engineering, math and science fields by women from our region who are professionals in these fields,” Chaney said.
The girls in the “real live genetics” workshop became budding scientists. That workshop was taught by Snow College alumni and biology graduate, Calli Cahill.
“It is so important for them to know they can be in the STEM field, “Cahill said. “We want to encourage women to begin in these fields and make a difference. This experience would have been great for me at a young age. It is very empowering for these young girls.”
Students went on to look at the DNA helix which determines genetic makeup and how genes contribute proteins. They also learned about taste. To know what food each food is, and if it is good for them.
“We can literally taste the physical effects of our genetic makeup. This helps in understanding how dominant and recessive traits affect our daily lives,” Cahill said.
“When something grows it might be poisonous… even animals are cautious of eating things that may be harmful to the body. When you get into biology classes in high school these receptor proteins will be important,” Cahill said.
Vivian Zitek, geology major at Snow College taught her workshop session on crystals.
Students learned how crystals form and why they take on different shapes. They were able to make a structural crystal model using miniature marshmallows and toothpicks.
The girls examined different shapes of minerals to construct a crystal model. Afterwards they learned to classify minerals based on the symmetry and geometry of the crystals.
“Have you ever thought about becoming a teacher because you make a wonderful teacher and this is really fun,” Anna Jones of Ephraim Middle School asked Zitek.
“I’m glad to hear that. Crystals are very fun,” Zitek replied.
During the course on medicine, the girls were able to practice sutures while using forceps and curved needles to close a wound on a pig’s hoof. The skin of a pig is very similar to human skin.
“Pig skin is the closest to human skin, but and it’s quite similar in depth,” doctor Tristy Christensen said.
They got a hands-on opportunity to see what it is like to be a doctor by taking blood pressure, using a stethoscope, testing blood sugars with a glucometer and performing surgical sutures.
“I’m kind of excited. I want to be a doctor since I was like five. I hope we get to do this next year too,” Bella Knudsen on Ephraim Middle School said.
“She’s got what it takes toughening it out,” Christensen said. “It’s always fun to do hands on things, not just to have people talk to you. In the medical field labs we do this a lot so I love to show the student’s hands-on work.”
The students also participated in workshops in acid etching, aquaponics, brains, night sky, power of leadership, veterinary medicine, sew circuits and forensics.
Chaney asked the girls to answer three questions: What was your favorite things about GEMS? What was the most important thing that you learned? In what ways did GEMS inspire you to persue an education or career in STEM?
“The veterinary classes were my favorite because I like animals, said Kate Flitton of Ephraim Middle School. “I learned a lot today.”
“I loved the class on medicine and that I learned to stitch a wound from Tristy,” Cambree Thomson of Ephraim Middle School said.
All parties involved agreed, the conference was inspiring.
“Anything I can do to help the upcoming generation overcome those challenges is worth it. We need women in STEM, and the girls that showed up today proved how smart and energetic they are—our future needs these girls,” Chaney said.
With participants paying a registration fee of only $15, Chaney relied heavily on the community and college support and was excited when donations came pouring in. Tristy Christiansen/IHC Ephraim Clinic donated hot/cold gel packs; Jessie Springer worked with Sanpete Valley Hospital for first aid kits; Snow College donated drawstring bags; Grffyn Enterprises donated t-shirts for the volunteers; and a NASA grant covered some of the workshop supply costs.
Snow College graduates put on some workshops with Science Club members helping out. Dr. Janine Smoothers from Sanpete Veterinary Clinic brought a dog and had the girls perform a canine examine, while Dr. Rebekka Matheson, a neurologist from BYU, had the girls examine “real” brains.
“Everyone did such a fantastic job. It was so wonderful to see the girls having fun, learning new things and making new friends,” Chaney said. “I hope this becomes an annual tradition that gets better and better with each year.”
For more information on GEMS visit snow.edu/gems or email firstname.lastname@example.org.