Giving girls choices

(Edmonton) Paper airplanes, Bunsen burners and popsicle-stick bridges are just some of the props used by a University of Alberta outreach group to bring Edmonton-area school girls closer to the world of science.

The U of A-based Women in Scholarship, Engineering, Science and Technology put on its 22nd annual Choices Conference for about 600 Grade 6 girls over two days to start the week.

Using laboratory space freed up thanks to reading week, WISEST volunteers gave school kids some hands-on fun with more than a dozen different science activities. Amanda Marchak, a first-year U of A engineering student and volunteer WISEST instructor, is paying the program back for the science spark it ignited in her when she took the Grade 6 WISEST tour.

“When I came through WISEST, it still seemed that science careers were for guys,” said Marchak, “but when I got here all the volunteer instructors were women, and suddenly it was cool for a young girl to be good at math and science.”

Marchak’s WISEST task was to face a classroom of some 30 Grade 6 girls and talk about the basics of flight. The hands-on part of this demonstration was making paper airplanes.

Lisa Zimmer, a Grade 6 teacher at Belmead School in Edmonton, says she decided on the four particular students she sent to the WISEST event because they’re a good fit with the program. “They’re always hands on, asking questions and trying to figure out the answer to everything,” she said. “It was amazing because it brought those students closer together, and when they got back to my class they were so enthusiastic.”

Kayla Kearney, one of Zimmer’s students, says the field trip was a great break from regular class. “To come the university�and it’s all girls too�and do all these things with science�it’s really fun.”

After an hour of talking about Bernoulli's Principle of Flight and tossing paper planes, Marchak says she is more committed than ever to being a WISEST volunteer. “It’s just so great when you realize you might be taking down a barrier to a Grade 6 girl’s future.”