Friday, April 29, 2011

Future Female Ph.D.s

Back in December I applied for a mini STEM Grant from the National Girls Collaborative Project for HAWS Education Department. STEM stands for "Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, and the goal of NGCP is to link organizations that offer STEM programs so that they can share resources and help develop gender equality in STEM -- in other words get girls interested in science and math!

Our grant was for a program to be run during spring break and was based on one of the Kids N Critter Day Camps we offer during the summer called Gone to the Dogs. The program was tweaked a bit so that it would conform better to the STEM requirements. Our collaborative partner was the Boys and Girls Clubs running out of Hadfield Elementary in Waukesha, WI. We were told that the grant had been awarded at the end of February, and the camp ran this past week.

Eleven girls between the ages of 9 and 11 spent Monday through Thursday at HAWS. They spent 3 mornings in HAWS vet clinic watching surgery, learning about veterinary medicine, listening to heartbeats through a stethoscope, and observing our vets and vet techs with the animals. Dr. Meyer told them that if they were interested in becoming veterinarians they needed to pay attention in science and math and should volunteer in shelters once they're old enough so that they get animal handling experience.

The girls learned about the importance of socialization in puppies and then got to play with the litter of dachshund puppies we happened to have this week. They learned about positive reinforcement, and were able to practice training some of the dogs.

I also had them put together an experiment based on the pointing studies that many researchers who are interested in canine cognition have already published. (Click here to watch a video on work being done in Germany.) The girls designed the study with a little coaching by me, and decided to compare whether dogs that had an owner or dogs that lived in a shelter would be better at following a point. They then actually implemented the study.

I'll be the first to admit that the implementation of this study won't adhere to the strict criteria that science requires. The girls were really rooting for the dogs and hated to see them fail and sometimes gave them a lot of leeway on whether they were successful or not. It was also difficult for them to keep quiet during the testing and that caused the dogs to become distracted. But the whole point of their time at HAWS wasn't to become perfect scientists. The point was to show them that science can be fun, and I know we succeeded in that.

Below is a video of the experiment with the girls talking about what they did.

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