LSU College of Science showed its commitment to increasing female participation in science by hosting a Geaux Science for Girls story time for girls in grades K-3 at four East Baton Rouge Parish libraries on Jan. 26.
Four female scientists from the University participated in the event: Physics and Astronomy assistant professor Tabetha Boyajian, Biological Sciences professor and Dean of the College of Science Cynthia Peterson, Chemistry instructor and director of graduate studies Caroline Schneider and Chemistry research assistant professor and Assistant Dean for Diversity and Inclusion Zakiya Wilson-Kennedy.
Chemistry professor Evanna Gleason also led a Geaux Science for Girls story time during a trial run of the event in December 2018.
The events featured the University’s female scientists reading stories about girls who are interested in science, such as “Cece Loves Science,” by Kimberly Derting and Shelli R. Johannes, “Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13,” by Helaine Becker and “Ada Twist, Scientist,” by Andrea Beaty.
After listening to the story, the girls were invited to participate in science related activities led by undergraduate and graduate students at the University. The University students encouraged the girls to ask questions and form hypotheses while doing the activities.
Boyajian was enthusiastic about participating in the event because of the importance of providing female representation in the sciences.
“It’s extremely important to be a visible role model and to show girls that we can also be scientists,” Boyajian said. “We don’t have to prove ourselves, but we can show that it’s normal for all people to contribute to understanding our universe.”
The Geaux Science for Girls program is an expansion of Girls Day at the Museum, which was held at the LSU Museum of Natural Science for the first time in February 2018. The event was open to girls in grades 4-6 and gave them the opportunity to explore the museum and participate in hands-on activities with female scientists at the University.
Girls Day at the Museum was such a success that Wilson-Kennedy, who was heavily involved in creating the event, expressed interest in expanding on that program to reach girls in grades K-12. They wrote a proposal to the Halliburton Foundation, which supports science education and outreach activities. When they received a grant, the Geaux Science for Girls program was created.
Wilson-Kennedy said having opportunities to do hands-on science activities in high school influenced not only her career choice, but also her decision to develop science outreach activities.
“I’m very passionate about the work that I do professionally and in the community,” Wilson-Kennedy said. “I’ve seen the impact that these experiences placed on me and I want to provide those same types of activities for others.”
Geaux Science for Girls involves a series of four activities this spring, beginning with the story time for girls in grades K-3 on Jan. 26. On Feb. 23, the College of Science will host another Girls Day at the Museum for grades 4-6. Girls in grades 7-8 will be invited to an event in Bluebonnet Swamp in March and girls in grades 9-12 will be able to participate in a science-related event in April, which is still being organized.
Peterson said the events are intended to encourage girls of all ages to continue to be passionate about science through participating in activities and engaging with female scientists.
“All of these activities involve girls meeting professional scientists at all different stages in their career and doing some hands-on activities themselves,” Peterson said. “We’re not just going to sit and read a book, we’re giving them hands-on experiences with science.”
All of the University’s female scientists who participated in the program agreed that providing opportunities for young girls to learn about science is critical in closing the gender gap in the science community.
“There have been people who have been discouraged from going into the sciences or discouraged from pursuing their area of interest,” Schneider said. “I love being able to do something like this because I can reach out and encourage people to pursue it.”