April 18, 2011
Meagen Pollock (left), assistant professor of geology at The College of Wooster, instructs girls in "Minerals in My Toothpaste?" - one of 17 workshops offered at the annual Expanding Your Horizons event on Saturday at The College of Wooster.
WOOSTER, Ohio — Building towers with spaghetti and marshmallows proved to be both fun and frustrating for the girls in Jennifer Roche Bowen’s workshop Saturday morning at The College of Wooster. The session, which exposed the participants to principles in math and physics, was one of 17 options at Expanding Your Horizons, an annual event that encourages fifth- and sixth-grade girls to pursue their interest in math and science.
More than 120 girls from the tri-county area — including 23 from the Rittman School District — attended the event, which featured such topics as “Minerals in My Toothpaste?” “Myth of the Caveman,” “You are What You Eat,” “Raining Cats and Dogs,” “Secret Messages,” and “The Humpty Dumpty Experiment.”
Sponsored by The College of Wooster, the Wooster branch of the American Association of University Women, the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program, the Ohio Geological Society, the Wooster Book Company, and the Math/Science Network, the series of workshops has been offered to young women in the area for nearly 20 years.
“We want to show the girls that science is not just what you read in a book, but something that is accessible to them,” said Mary Wicks, one of the conference coordinators. “We also want them to know that there are many career opportunities for women in science.”
Participants were limited to three workshops, which made for some tough choices, but each one seemed to be equally engaging. In “Minerals in My Toothpaste,” for example, the girls learned that every mineral has a “fingerprint” by viewing its properties in The College of Wooster’s new X-Ray Diffractometer. “We can compare the patterns and figure out which minerals are present,” said Meagen Pollock, assistant professor of geology at The College of Wooster.
In “Outbreak,” the girls learned about pathogens in produce, specifically E. coli, which can be a threat to humans. “Our ultimate goal is to protect the consumer, from farm to fork,” said Pam Schlegel of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Also in that session, Jennifer Schrock, a student at ATI talked briefly about her experience as a young woman in science and her desire to conduct research in the dairy industry.
Karen Skubik, another of the conference coordinators, expressed appreciation for the volunteer presenters, all of whom were women. “These are busy people who take time year after year to prepare and present a topic,” said Skubik. “This helps us to keep our registration fee ($10) low, and that makes it even more accessible for the girls.”
Jamie Innis, a sophomore biology major at Wooster, explained why she volunteered for Saturday’s conference. “I attended similar science events when I was their age, and it really gave me confidence,” said Innis, who plans to attend medical school and become an ophthalmologist. “This is a critical age in their development, and they need to know that there is always a need for women in science.”
At the end of each session, the girls would share their newfound knowledge — everything from “Did you know strawberries have DNA?” to “I never realized there were so many microscopic organisms.” But the overarching message of the day was summarized best by one girl who said, “Girls can be just as smart as boys in science and math…maybe even smarter.”
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