Lab Girls

A new summer event aims to sell kids on STEM.


Despite making tremendous professional progress over the past several decades, women are still distressingly under-represented in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. According to the National Science Board, last year they represented only 26 percent of the college-educated workforce in STEM occupations.

Future STEM stars, from left: Ava Miller, Parker Hebert, and Joanna Jackson.
Future STEM stars, from left: Ava Miller, Parker Hebert, and Joanna Jackson.


One key to improving these numbers, science educators say, is giving girls an early introduction to the allure and excitement of hands-on STEM activities.

Hence the creation of EWU’s new Girls+ STEM summer camp, a fast-paced, two-day romp that saw girls (and boys) in grades 3-5 growing colonies of microbes, calculating Barbie doll bungee jumps, and creating wetlands in a bottle — all activities designed to get campers, especially the girls, psyched about science.

Organizer Melissa Graham, an EWU senior lecturer and CSTEM faculty fellow for diversity, equity, inclusion and justice, said the camp was made possible by a $2,000 Diversity Initiative Grant from the EWU Board of Trustees. Seven Eastern STEM faculty members — all with advanced degrees— volunteered their time.

Students paid just $20 each to join the instructors at Eastern’s Interdisciplinary Science Center during the August camp. Although it was designed with girls in mind, the camp was open to all students, regardless of gender.

“I think that it was a great experience. If I could go again next year I would go, but I can’t because I’ll be a sixth-grader,” says Grace Lynch, 10, a student at Betz Elementary School.

Lynch says she particularly enjoyed a session on the chemistry of making lip balm: “It was fun because we had to get the ingredients at just the right number.”

Other exercises involved using a compass to solve a scavenger hunt, creating chemical reactions to tie-dye shirts and etch jewelry, building a circuit board to power a light, and swabbing various surfaces to collect and identify interesting-looking microbes.

Graham started recruiting faculty members to help with Girls+STEM back in February. Planning sessions began in March.

The experience for participating kids was a great “first-foot-in-the-door to Eastern,” says Graham, who adds that she considers year one a resounding success. “What I wanted them to take away is that they can be scientists, and that there are lots of different ways to do it,” she says.