by Thea Singer
Melanie, a fifth-grader at Channing Elementary School, in Hyde Park, Massachusetts, reaches out to touch the back of a Jonah crab that Andrew Madanjian, S’18, a member of Northeastern’s Marine Biology Club, suspends above a tub of water. Inside are a lobster, a hermit crab, and other crustaceans collected at Northeastern’s Marine Science Center. “It feels gritty!” Melanie exclaims. Her friend, Oriana, a fifth-grader at Bowen Elementary School, in Newton, Massachusetts, takes a chance on the underside of the lobster’s tail. “It feels squishy,” she says, laughing.
It is Saturday in the basement of International Village, and both girls are there for Show Me the Science, an annual fair hosted by Northeastern’s student-run chapter of Science Club for Girls, a nonprofit organization based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that provides STEM-based programs for girls K-12, especially those in underrepresented groups. The two-hour event, aimed at girls K-8, has drawn more than 200 participants including the girls, their families, volunteers, mentors, and staff.
At the core of Science Club for Girls are the weekly clubs: Saturday classes of 12 to 15 girls each, broken down by age, where female mentors team-teach interactive curricula developed by the organization covering topics from physics to environmental science. Members of Northeastern’s chapter host eight clubs in semesterlong sessions, serving a total of about 100 girls. Fourteen “junior mentors,” high school students who have gone through the program, learn leadership skills by helping with the lessons.
“It makes me so happy on Saturday mornings when young girls skip down the stairs of IV eager to sign in to their clubs,” says Julia Kirslis, S’17, president of Northeastern’s chapter of Science Club for Girls. “Their enthusiasm is phenomenal. The girls make hypotheses and back up their ideas with reasons. They are developing confidence along with crucial critical analytic skills, and they are not afraid to make mistakes when they do experiments—an attitude that is so important in research.”
Neurons, and bots, and electrons—oh my!
That confidence was evident on Saturday morning as excited girls made their way around the activity tables prepared by 20 university student organizations and individuals.
Dahlia, a first-grader at the Mather Elementary School, in Dorchester, Massachusetts, was molding pink Play-Doh atop a large test tube at a table sponsored by the campus branch of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. “She’s constructing the nose cone of a stomp rocket,” explained Morgan Castle, E’19. “She’s cut the fins from paper. When she’s done, she can attach the rocket to a tube serving as a launching pad and stomp on a little pump to launch it.”
At a table sponsored by the Biological Honors Society, Vanessa, a 13-year-old home-schooled student from Middleton, Massachusetts, cautiously places paper clips atop the water in a full paper cup. “I’m seeing how many paper clips I can fit onto the surface of the water using the surface tension at the top,” she says. Paper clips are heavier than water, explains volunteer Rowena Rajan, S’18, but the cohesive forces among the water molecules enable the water to resist the clips’ external force. Vanessa has been participating in Science Club for Girls for six years. “It’s opened my mind to a bunch of different branches of science that I hadn’t thought much about before, like physics,” she says.
Rose Cinea-Elyse, the mother of Hannah, a fifth grader at UP Academy, in Dorchester, looks on in wonder as Hannah programs a Lego Mindstorms EV3 robot to move in a square on a table arranged by Bits & Bots, a Northeastern student group that holds free sessions in introductory robotics at the Boston Public Library’s Grove Hall site. “She told me she’s going to be a scientist,” says Rose, laughing. “She wants to work at NASA. I’m excited about that.”
Hannah, who has been participating in Science Club for Girls for two years, echoes her mom’s enthusiasm. “The club makes science more exciting,” she says. And why NASA? “They do cool experiments in astronomy with new planets and exoplanets.”
Marshmallows and straws crowd the project presented by the Northeastern student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers. “Civil engineers build structures,” says Shahed Najjar, E’18. “So that’s what’s happening here. The students are using marshmallows and straws to make stable structures using delicious treats.”
Jade, a first-grader at the Morse School, in Cambridge, is in her first year with Science Club for Girls. She explains the geometry of her structure. “Three triangles make a pyramid,” she says, pointing to the segments anchored by the sweet confection. Her 4-year-old brother is making a castle. His favorite part of working with marshmallows? “Um, eating them?” he asks with a grin.
At the next table, Damla Cehreli, S’20, a member of Northeastern’s chapter of the American Chemical Society, is running a demonstration showing how batteries connected to circuits can move electrons, warming an attached square plate. Nyrée, a first grader at the Bridge Boston Charter School, in Boston, explains the concept. “We learned that if you put these two wires together, they push all the energy to the other side of the white square, making it warm,” she says confidently.
Participating in Science Club for Girls benefits not just the girls but also the Northeastern women running the program, say club members. “I love teaching the girls—they are so eager to learn,” says Lauren Abbott, S’18, treasurer of the campus chapter. “You get to see them go through all the years, starting in kindergarten. Teaching them has also helped me explore whether I want to go into teaching as a career.”
Kirslis concurs. “I have learned so much being part of this organization,” she says. “I have grown a lot as a leader, and I have also become more cognizant of the societal constructs and issues in place that make organizations like Science Club for Girls so important. I am where I am today because of the incredible female role models in my life. I hope I can help inspire and encourage these girls the way my role models inspired and encouraged me.”
To hear the girls tell it, that is already happening. Back at the tub of crustaceans presented by the Marine Biology Club, Melanie and Oriana, who’ve both attended Science Club for Girls for seven years, note how the program has shaped their goals.
“I want to be an audiologist—the kind of scientist who studies sound,” says Melanie. “I want to be a baker,” says Oriana. “Baking is also science because it’s chemistry.”
“A molecular gastronomist,” adds Melanie, nodding. “That’s what bakers are.”