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Campus Bulletin

July 12, 2006

Girl Guides Explore Science, Tech at U of G

More than 200 Girl Guides and their camp leaders visited campus this week to explore science and technology and discover their hidden interests and aptitudes.

The girls are attending an international Girl Guide camp at Guelph Lake this month. Valerie Davidson, a U of G engineering professor and chair for Woman in Science and Engineering, and Janice DeMoor, project manager for Women in Science and Engineering, were asked to spearhead some science and technology programming for the guides, who range in age from 11 to 18.

Davidson was approached by a leader in Girl Guides Canada who knew of her chair, an initiative funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and Hewlett-Packard. It's designed to increase participation of females in science and engineering and provide role models for women considering careers in these fields.

Davidson and DeMoor developed the sessions for the girls based on the framework of the Youth Science and Technology Outreach Program (YSTOP), which was done in collaboration with partners from Lakehead University, Ryerson University and Actua, a national youth outreach organization.

The Girl Guide sessions were facilitated by U of G graduate students, summer researchers, faculty and alumni from a wide range of science and technology backgrounds. They volunteered hundreds of hours to teach the girls about subjects ranging from biomechanics, environmental engineering and wastewater treatment to food science and watershed management.

In addition, the sessions outlined a variety of career paths, educational options and guidelines for choosing courses at the high school level in order to be prepared to study science and technology in university.

“We don’t want girls opting out of science in Grade 10. We want them to keep their options open,” says De Moor.

The goal is to give them first-hand experience in a research environment, she says. “It’s important to take away the ‘geek factor’ and show them that women who work in science are regular people,” DeMoor says, noting that working with community groups like the Girl Guides provides new avenues to reach a wider audience of young women. “The more ways you come at it the better.”

YSTOP was unveiled in March and is making its way to a number of schools across Ontario. The partnership with the Girl Guides was a unique opportunity to reach girls from across the world, says DeMoor, including one Grade 12 girl from Nigeria who wrote this in her feedback form: “I really loved it. I didn’t think I’d want to go with science, but now I think I will.” Another girl, an eighth-grader from Stephenville, Ontario, wrote that her experience has left her wanting to pursue science at U of G.

Davidson says that such positive experiences with science have a lasting impact. “When I see that happening at an individual level, I feel quite a sense of reward and I hope that these young people maintain some level of interest in science and technology — no matter what they choose as a career.”

The campers participated in their final two sessions Tuesday. The Girl Guide camp runs to July 14.

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