Team:William and Mary/Human Practices/Young Women in STEM

Young Women in STEM

The goal for this event is to excite girls about science while providing them with opportunities to feel successful while working in a STEM field. To create an accessible and relevant outreach program we followed the Outreach Planning Guide. An overview version of the guide can be found on the Database Page page
Find Communities
While our wet lab team this year is predominantly female, women are generally underrepresented in STEM fields. With this in mind, we created a program that encouraged more young women to get involved in STEM. We partnered with a Williamsburg Classical Academy (Homeschooling Cohort) and The Girls Scouts of the Colonial Coast to reach groups of girls interested in STEM. The partnership with the Classical Academy gave us the additional opportunity to reach students who do not attend public schools and as a result have limited access to wet lab practice.
Evaluating Interest & Understanding
Our large scale female focused event is our Ladies in the Lab initiative. To develop a program that would both be challenging and fun for young ladies interested in STEM we connected with Donna Farnham and Jacqueline Brooks from Girl Scouts of the Colonial Coast. Donna & Jacqueline wanted a program that catered more towards older girls because there are currently fewer opportunities designed to engage and challenge them in the Girl Scout calendar. We were told to expect a strong understanding of biology and genetics, but less exposure to the techniques and science behind gene editing techniques.
We wanted to create a similar Ladies in the Lab event which would be open to girls not already involved in girl scouts so we connected with the Williamsburg Classical Academy. We originally connected with this homeschooling community during our Building with Biology event, when many attendees shared they knew homeschooling parents who would love to see increased partnerships with William & Mary. Homeschool groups don’t always have the opportunity to work in labs and they were eager to have the experience. Because of the volume of requests from younger students we opened this event to 10 and up students, focusing on the 10 to 14 age group. We adjusted the complexity of our program accordingly, dividing the program into three age groups with slightly different learning objectives: younger than 12, 12 years old, and 13 and up.
Figure 1: One of our younger participants getting excited about the last steps of her gram stain protocol
Consider How to Connect
It was decided that the most beneficial program would be one that brought older girls to the lab to practice techniques they couldn’t do at home. After talking to the homeschool parents and our girl scout contacts, we realized that a longer 3 hour event where girls got to practice a multitude of techniques would be the best use of the student’s time. To connect with the Girl Scouts, Dona & Jacqueline handled registration and advertising for the event. For our homeschooling community we utilized Williamsburg community social media pages and the Classical Academy newsletters. We highlighted the extensive in lab experience the event offered knowing many homeschooling parents were in need of this kind of opportunity.
Search the Database & Adapt
For this event, we were able to build upon our own team's past projects. We reflected on the feedback we received at our previous years female focused event. The most consistent feedback was an interest in emphasizing the activities which students could not complete at home. For girls making the trip to lab on a weekend it was more valuable to complete activities which could only be done while on campus. With this in mind, we improved our activities so that each of the three stations for the event had one activity which the girls would not be able to complete without our lab resources. The goal for this event is to excite girls about science while providing them with opportunities to feel successful while working in a STEM field. Additionally, because we are working with older girls we want to be sure to provide adequate challenge to keep them interested and give them an honest understanding of what our work looks like in synthetic biology.
On Saturday, October 13th, 28 girls and 2 boys joined us for Ladies in the Lab from 10:00 am until 1:00 pm. The full event schedule and section protocols for teams hoping to replicate the event are attached here. The students practiced: micropipetting, gel electrophoresis, working with synthetic bacteria, gram staining, identifying bacterial morphology, discussing gene editing techniques and creating their own bacteria. Students were put into different groups based on ages and the conversations were catered to the appropriate level of background knowledge for each group. Participants received a completion certificate and polaroid photograph at the end of the event.
On November 18th we will have 100 girl scouts and their troop leaders attending the second Ladies in the Lab event. The learning objectives and techniques are similar to those used in 13+ group for the first Ladies in the Lab. We are integrating the feedback from the first Ladies in the Lab to ensure the program will run smoothly even after being scaled up. Upon the completion of the event, the attendees will earn their Science Alive Patch. For this event we are also partnering with a new William & Mary organization, the STEMinists, a student organization which promotes young women getting involved with STEM. They will provide the additional staff needed for the event and they will be a big part of making this an annual event moving forward.
Reflect & Record
We received overwhelming positive feedback for both of our past events. However, we are always looking to improve. For our Ladies in the Lab event our event team debriefed and came up with the following updates for the larger event.
  1. As many gels as possible need to be created in advance and stored. Because of the limited number of gel boxes it will be stressful to be running gels knowing the gel box is needed to start casting new gels.
  2. Having an hour rather than 45 minutes to work through each station would let girls ask more questions and develop a deeper understanding of the topics.
  3. The rotation method worked well, it will need to be scaled up, but having students rather than station leaders rotate was much simpler.
  4. Because our campus was closed, we didn’t have access to gas for our bunsen burners, this meant we went through a lot of sterile tips - this was an unanticipated change for our older girl group.
We also talked to the older girls who attended the event because the second Ladies in the Lab will be for their age group. The feedback was mostly positive but they did have two suggestions:
  1. “I wish we had gone more in depth with the explanations of the science” - Caroline (15)
  2. “I had done a few of the experiments before, it would have been cool to do more of the experiments I hadn’t done before” - Morgan (13)
Moving forward we are extending the discussion time so lab leaders have a chance to dive even deeper into the complexities of the technique. It is important to note that the feedback we received is from our older girls, this is especially valuable as we finalize our plans for the November event.
Target Area for Growth
We connected with the homeschool community for this event; there was overwhelming requests for more programing, especially co-ed programming for all ages of homeschool students. We have just begun to work with this community, but our partnership will hopefully provide increased access to advance laboratory experiences for students in homeschooling cohorts. We are collaborating with parent leaders to establish a set of activities which correlate to the lessons being taught by the homeschooling community while also avoiding repeat experiences.