To the casual observer, they appeared to be an average group of adolescent girls, sharing lipstick and talking about boys.
But they were gathered on campus to participate in an experience focusing on the roles of women in the sciences.
The Bell Museum and the Women in Science and Engineering student organization co-sponsored the “Science is for Girls” summer camp this week. Twelve girls in grades 6 through 8 participated.
The girls spent the week exploring the many facets of science, from examining a human brain at the medical school to visiting the Raptor Center and making liquid nitrogen ice cream.
Rebecca DeHoff, a recent University graduate and instructor for the camp, said she didn’t want the girls to think of the camp as excluding males, but to accept and enjoy the all-female participation.
“The idea is to maintain and nurture interest so they go on to study science in high school and college,” DeHoff said.
On Monday, the girls launched rockets they created out of plastic bottles. After placing several inches of water into the bottles, the girls added compressed air and watched their creations launch up to 60 feet in the air.
Several participants said the hands-on activities made a big difference in how they learned scientific principles.
Camp participant Kate Currie said being taught by a female instructor and working with women in scientific careers further enhanced her experience.
“It’s encouraging me,” said Currie, an eighth-grader at St. Paul Academy.
DeHoff said the age of the campers plays a key role in maintaining their interest in science. She said studies have shown that pre- to early-teenage girls are often discouraged from having an interest in science or pressured into focusing their interest elsewhere.
“I think a lot more people are noticing deficits in girls’ education,” DeHoff said.
But DeHoff said she encountered a balanced gender ratio and an environment accepting of female scientists during her years in the University’s College of Biological Sciences.
This acceptance is encouraged by Women in Science and Engineering, of which DeHoff is a member. Formed last fall, the organization focuses on mentoring, recruitment and retention of females in the sciences.
Graduate student and organization member Amy Reese-Wagoner said she was not afforded opportunities such as all-girl camps as a child, but her interest in science remained nonetheless.
“No one scared the science out of me early,” Reese-Wagoner said.
She added that removing stereotypical gender barriers — the norms and trends that were commonplace when she grew up — opens up new possibilities for girls.
“It really allows them from a young age to not see any boundary lines,” she said.