UW News

June 14, 1996

Rural high school girls get science, math, engineering experience at special UW camp, now through June 29

Thirty-three high school girls from seven rural school districts in the state are on the UW campus for a two-week camp designed to encourage them to pursue their interests in science, mathematics and engineering. Sponsored by the Northwest Center for Research on Women, the camp involves the girls in a number of hands-on science activities, some in University labs.
Projects at Foster Island, Thornton Creek, Green Lake and Ravenna Park as well as trips to the San Juans and to the Woodland Park Zoo are some of the items on the agenda for the girls, who are paired with professional scientist mentors during their stay here. These girls will be sophomores in the fall, project direct Jane Bierman says, and the idea is to encourage them to sign up for science and math courses in high school to prepare them for post-secondary education and possible careers in the field.

NWCRoW has sponsored science camps for rural girls for the last three years, and this year two camp graduates–now undergraduate science majors at the UW–will be serving as junior counselors. Teachers and counselors from the girls’ schools will also be attending the camp–the teachers to participate in workshops on the teaching of science and the counselors to learn about career opportunities in science/engineering/math fields and about how to support young women’s interest in these fields.

In many ways, rural schools are ideal sites for teaching science; they are frequently surrounded by or located very near natural resources and phenomena that present unique opportunities for fieldwork. Teachers, however, may struggle to take advantage of these opportunities because they lack the necessary training or instructional materials to teach the local environment. As a result, rural girls may practice “real science” in their lives through involvement in agricultural activities or animal care, but rarely do their school experiences lead them to make the connection between “real science” and “school science.”

The UW camp aims to bridge that gap. By simultaneously exposing the students to new science experiences, their teachers to new ways of teaching and their counselors to information about careers and mentoring, the program is attempting to ensure that the girls will get continuing support for their interests when they return to their rural homes. This year for the first time, some of that support will come from a “virtual science club.” Their schools have been hooked into the Internet, and the girls will be able to keep in touch with each other and with the UW staff to get online help on their projects through the year.

While they are here the girls will be meeting with others from their school, and before they return home on June 29 each group will agree on a long-term research project to do in their home community. Each school district will receive $3,000 for the project and to purchase science equipment for their schools. Some projects undertaken by last year’s participants include:

  • A research project exposing third graders to hands-on science in Wapato
  • A study of Native American whaling in Neah Bay
  • A study of Hyak Lake in North Beach.

Next year, the groups will report on their projects at a special conference. They have also been invited to the national meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which is being held in Seattle next February.
Funding for the Rural Girls in Science project is from the National Science Foundation.
For further information, contact Jane Bierman or Katie Frevert, project directors, 543-9531