Fifteen Ohio middle school girls attended the Young Women’s Summer Institute (YWSI) hosted by the Ohio Supercomputer Center (OSC) from July 17-23 2022.
The girls learned about data and watersheds and practiced analyzing water samples before going on an excursion to Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park Nature Center southwest of Columbus. At the creek, the girls examined water samples and went to the park’s Nature Center, where they learned about the different ecosystems within the park.
The girls also visited The Ohio State University’s Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center to understand more about climate change and ice cores. At the Chadwick Arboretum & Learning Gardens, they learned about rooftop gardens and different plant species.
OSC launched YWSI in 2000 with the intention of sparking Ohio middle school girls’ interest in STEM before high school. The program was created to help increase the representation of women in STEM fields, particularly information technology.
Providing participants with an all-girls group at YWSI allows everyone to have an equal opportunity to participate as much as they want or share their ideas in a comfortable space, said Betsy Kordes, YWSI chaperone and educational programming conference planner at the Ohio Technology Consortium.
By having girls from different parts of Ohio participate in YWSI, Kordes said participants can see that they may not be the only one passionate about science.
“I think one of the best things that the camp does is foster that sense of ‘Hey you can do this,’” Kordes said. “You might be the only girl in your science classroom that’s interested in this, but that is OK. There are other girls in the state that are doing the same thing you’re doing.”
The group of girls at YWSI this year immediately began interacting and opening up to one another, Kordes said.
“That was just really nice to see, especially after a couple years of the pandemic,” Kordes said. “It was encouraging.”
The girls also developed a sense of confidence over the course of the week, which was evident at the end of the camp during the presentations they gave about their projects.
The projects were about Ohio’s watersheds, or areas of land with a connected water system. The girls worked in groups of three with a teacher to develop a set of hypotheses about their assigned watershed before analyzing the data provided and seeing how their hypothesis fared.
Presenting their project findings offered the girls practice in public speaking and other skills that they can use in the classroom and their future careers, Kordes said.
“By getting up in front of an audience of their parents, peers, families and the staff, they learn how to gather information for their presentation, what to speak about in their presentations, what looks good, what’s easy to understand, paying attention to who the audience is and catering to that audience,” Kordes said. “Public speaking is definitely a part of the program that builds the girls’ confidence.”
The girls were kept busy every day with their project work but were given breaks that often featured hands-on activities or tours, said Elizabeth Stong, YWSI and OSC program coordinator.
“It’s a lot of work, but it is so rewarding at the end of it because you see the kids come out with so many new skills and so much more confidence in presenting and their ability to do the work,” Stong said.
The girls stayed in a residence hall, Raney House, on The Ohio State University’s campus. Each night the girls had the option to participate in activities such as swimming, volleyball, watching a movie and scrapbooking.
“After the past two years, getting those social experiences of being together again and meeting new people—I think that’s something that some people struggle with now,” Kordes said. “After being so isolated for a couple of years, the girls were like fish to water. They jumped right in with it.”
On Thursday night, the girls were given the opportunity to speak with five different women in STEM-related fields and ask them questions during a virtual career night. During this activity, the girls heard about the obstacles the women overcame throughout their educational experiences and career paths.
Stong said career night is always one of her favorite activities during YWSI because she can see some of the girls realize that their interests can be turned into a career.
“You just see the wheels turning in their heads,” Stong said. “‘Wait, that’s a thing people can do? I like doing that. I can do that forever? That’s super rad.’ And then those tend to be the kids who ask ‘Can you give me the email of this person? I want to ask some questions.’”
Applications for YWSI open around Jan. 1 and close on April 16. Selected participants will be notified in early May. Those interested can visit the YWSI website for more information.
By Mary Kidwell
About OSC: The Ohio Supercomputer Center (OSC) addresses the rising computational demands of academic and industrial research communities by providing a robust shared infrastructure and proven expertise in advanced modeling, simulation and analysis. OSC empowers scientists with the services essential to making extraordinary discoveries and innovations, partners with businesses and industry to leverage computational science as a competitive force in the global knowledge economy and leads efforts to equip the workforce with the key technology skills required for 21st century jobs.