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SMC students host Hypatia Day to encourage STEM participation

| Friday, February 17, 2017

Saint Mary’s will emphasize feminism in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields this Saturday with Hypatia Day. Named after the Greek mathematician, astronomer and philosopher Hypatia, the conference takes place to encourage young girls in seventh and eighth grades interested in participating in STEM fields.

Associate professor of mathematics and computer science Kristin Kuter said the day is meant to interest more young women in STEM fields before they enter high school.

“The goal is to encourage these girls to continue to study STEM and to pursue an education in STEM,” Kuter said.

These girls will participate with Saint Mary’s students in activities in the fields in which they are interested. The chemistry, biology, physics, math, computer science, engineering and nursing clubs will host sessions with the girls, teaching them new things and giving demonstrations.

The day will start with a speech from keynote speaker Laura Kloepper, assistant biology professor. Kloepper said she wants to inspire younger girls to be in science.

“I like to get other people excited, not just about my work, but about science in general too,” Kloepper said.

After the speech, the girls will go to sessions and demonstrations in their chosen fields.

The biology club will help its participants to extract DNA from strawberries and put the DNA in necklaces.

“All the students can go home wearing a necklace of strawberry DNA,” Kloepper said.

Senior biology major Stephanie Dreessen said the club will also have the students examine and dissect preserved specimens.

“We have a sheep heart, some crayfish, [we’ll] look at differences of a turtle that lives on land verses water, some owls,” Dreessen said. “And we’re also looking at some genetic base stuff, such as fruit flies, seeing some differences underneath a microscope.”

According to senior nursing major Tyler Booth, the girls attending the nursing session will learn a lot of nursing practices, including bandaging and taking vitals.

“We’re teaching them how to wrap legs and arms,” Booth said, “We’re teaching them how to take pulses, blood pressures. We’re teaching them how to listen to heart sounds and lung sounds on our medi-man.”

Junior physics and applied math major Rachel Bonek said the physics club will teach its students projectile motion with a mini-cannonball demonstration.

“They can calculate how far it’s going to go based on the angle in the force we put behind it,” Bonek said. “It should be fun.”

One of the events of the day focuses on talking to parents about how to encourage their daughters who are interested in science.

“We talk about the academic preparation and development of the daughters,” Kuter said.

Senior biology major Cassie Libbing will be on the student panel, made up of STEM majors, which will answer parents’ questions about education and how to support their daughters.

“Just by sharing experience, I think it gives them a better vision of what it might come to be for their daughters and also see the variety of paths you can take within the STEM area,” Libbing said.

For the event, almost as many Saint Mary’s students will volunteer as there are girls that attend. Kuter said this can influence the visiting girls by showing how many female college students are pursing majors in STEM fields.

“These middle schoolers really do get to see a lot of examples of the possibilities and what the potential is with these undergraduate Saint Mary’s students,” Kuter said.

Part of Hypatia Day’s goal is to reach out to girls in this age group to keep them from dropping their interest in the sciences, and Kuter said the impact of the day should keep these girls interested in science.

“Research has shown that that is the age when girls start pulling away from the STEM fields,” Kuter said. “That transition is key in order to keep women engaged within the STEM fields.”

Kloepper said Saint Mary’s, as an all-women’s college, facilitates a connection between its students and young girls interested in the sciences through events like Hypatia Day.

“It’s nice that we have this opportunity to reach out to them and kind of say, ‘No, stick with it, it’s an amazing career path,’” Kloepper said.

Booth said she personally felt this impact when she was in middle school.

“I felt I was very English-y and liked writing, and I wasn’t really interested in sciences because I thought that was something only boys did,” Booth said. “So I think it’s important to inspire them and show them that it’s something they can do too.”

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