May 3, 2012 | 3:56 p.m.
By Suzanne McInroy, Director of Communications
More than 80 fourth and fifth graders from three area elementary schools descended upon Bethel University on April 28 for “Girls in Science.” The 83 girls were split into three groups to participate in activities to learn about wetlands, fractals, and photosynthesis.
A fourth grader from Zachary Lane Elementary in Robbinsdale School District walked into the biology lab for the photosynthesis experiment and was excited because, “At first I thought it had something to do with photos and then I thought we were supposed to do something with liquids,” she said. In the end, the girls learned how plants get their food.
A fellow fourth grade girl from Champlin-Brooklyn Park Academy for Math and Environmental Science in the Anoka-Hennepin School District said she was surprised to learn that plants don’t eat soil. Instead, she discovered that when you mix carbon dioxide with water and sunlight, it produces a food, and that’s what plants eat. Adjunct instructor Amy Dykstra from Bethel led the group in the hands-on photosynthesis experiment.
In a nearby room, Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences Sara Wyse taught another group of girls about wetlands and had them “create” their own using sponges for the wetlands, play-doh for animals, cocoa for dirt, and lime Jell-O for fertilizer. The third activity focused on math; the girls learned about fractals by making a pop-up card. The group was led by Assistant Professor of Computer Science Deborah Thomas.
Aja Oliver, a junior biology major at Bethel, was the leader of one group of five girls. She said she volunteered to help with “Girls in Science” because she thought it sounded like fun. “I’ve enjoyed helping them learn more about science and seeing their excitement,” she said.
The mentoring aspect of the “Girls in Science” program is what organizer Patricia Paulson, professor of science education at Bethel, really appreciates. “We do know that despite all our efforts, there still seems to be gender gap issues with girls in science.” Paulson hopes this program provides a “mirror lens” so the elementary girls can see themselves as scientists through the college students, professors, and the keynote speaker, Jenny Olson, a veterinarian in St. Paul.
Bethel began the “Girls in Science” program in2007 and typically hosts two events each year. In addition to students from Zachary Lane and Champlin-Brooklyn Park Academy, this year’s event also included students from the Hmong College Prep Academy in St. Paul, a school founded by Bethel alumna Christianna Hang GS’11.
“The program was a wonderful experience for our young ladies, and they enjoyed each and every minute of it,” said Geneiveve Jannette, fifth grade teacher at the Hmong College Prep Academy. “They came away with much knowledge, and many of them were able to use a microscope for the very first time.”