Girls Get WISE Science Retreat – a Rousing Success!

by Kristie, David

WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) Acadia hosted a Girls Get WISE Science Retreat in the K.C. Irving Environmental Science Centre on March 18th, 2016.  This event was open to girls in grades 7 and 8, as this is a critical age when girls may lose interest in, or are discouraged from, pursuing a career in science or science-related fields.

The girls were welcomed to the science retreat by Barb Anderson (Nutrition and WISE Acadia) and Dr. Anna Redden (Biology), Director of the Acadia Tidal Energy Institute, who set the context for the day’s priority: tidal energy and marine life.  Dr. Randy Lynn Newman (Psychology) hosted a parents’ information session where she discussed key barriers (e.g., gender bias, math anxiety) to girls’ participation in science, especially as they move from middle school to high school and beyond. The session included evidence-based strategies for -parents/caregivers to inspire and sustain their daughters’ interest in science and science related areas.

Throughout the day, those in attendance took part in a variety of scientific activities that encouraged girls to get excited about science and to connect the girls to research that impacts life in the Bay of Fundy Region. There were two main sessions, and each focused on the central theme of tidal energy and marine life.  In the engineering activity, the Grade 7 and 8 girls were asked to test different tidal turbine designs in a tabletop demonstration tank and compare the resulting power and energy generated from each. In the biology activity, the participants were shown specimens that live in the local area of the Bay of Fundy and were taught about different sampling methods to study fish in the Bay.  Together both activities challenged the girls’ abilities to think about science in the modern world, and how it impacts the future.

Teams of skilled undergraduate students, Master’s students, and researchers facilitated each tidal energy activity.  These mentors not only helped engage the learners, they served as outstanding role models for what women scientists do in their academic and professional lives.  During lunch, the participants were given the opportunity to have small group discussions with WISE student mentors from Acadia University, exposing the girls to other fields in science, including: computer science, math and statistics, chemistry, environmental science, nutrition, physics, and psychology. Connecting girls with role models and mentors is a key factor in chipping away at gender-based stereotypes.

This event was organized by the WISE Acadia Planning Committee (a group of dedicated WISE faculty, students and staff), with support from WISE Atlantic, TD Friends of the Environment Foundation, and Open Acadia. Girls Get WISE would not have been possible without numerous student and faculty volunteers who helped throughout the day. The event was so popular that discussions are already underway for the next Girls Get WISE retreat.

For further information on Girls Get Wise, please contact a WISE Acadia faculty member: Barb Anderson; Randy Lynn Newman; or Cindy Trudel

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