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Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the University of South Florida (USF)'s College of Marine Science, and the Florida Marine Research Institute (FMRI) sat down with teenage girls attending USF's Oceanography Camp for Girls to discuss what it is like to be a scientist. The girls asked the scientists questions about their education, inspirations, research, and achievements.
The 36 girls toured the USGS, USF, and FMRI facilities in downtown St. Petersburg, FL, on June 9 and 10. At the USGS St. Petersburg Science Center, the girls were briefed about ongoing research and were teamed with a USGS scientist, their "scientist buddy." As part of the exercise, the girls cooperatively thought of questions to ask their scientist buddies later in the day. It was impressive to see interested teenage girls leaning over an open sediment core in the USGS core lab and discussing Louisiana's problems with subsidence, rising sea level, and wetland loss.
In the USGS research laboratory, lab manager Molly McLaughlin explained how scientists use some of the center's equipment. Posters showing coastal erosion, effects of Hurricane Isabel, airborne-lidar imagery, karst hydrology, coral reefs, and uses of the underwater incubation chamber named the Submersible Habitat for Analyzing Reef Quality (SHARQ) inspired many questions from the young scientists. The campers thought building an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), a small plane, would be a great high-school science-class project. Microbiologists use the USGS UAV to sample atmospheric dust blown across the Atlantic Ocean from Africa and have installed a global positioning system (GPS) and a video camera on the plane. Microorganisms in the dust samples are identified to understand the possible effects of African dust on coral reefs that are declining in Florida and the Caribbean. The possible effects of African dust on agriculture, human health, and homeland security were also discussed during the tour. At the conclusion of the tour, campers were given the opportunity to interview scientists. Many campers and scientists exchanged e-mail addresses.
The USF College of Marine Science started the first Oceanography Camp for Girls to increase awareness and to address the shortfall of women scientists. The camp was created to respond to several national studies conducted in the 1990s that revealed a tremendous drop in the number of women pursuing mathematics and science degrees.
The benefits of an all-girl camp include a decrease in the number of social learning barriers, a risk-free environment to ask questions, and a positive sense of self. Camp participants enjoy getting their hands dirty and not being concerned with their appearance because there are no boys to impress, just girls with the same interest in learning. With interdisciplinary learning that focuses on math, ecology, and physical and natural sciences, campers are able to participate in real-world research projects and problem solving. Alumni campers and graduate-student mentors are also offered the chance to serve as peer mentors to new campers, while enhancing their own communication and leadership skills.
"The Oceanography Camp for Girls was developed to inspire and motivate young women entering high school to consider career opportunities in the sciences," said Teresa Greely, camp director and biological oceanographer. "Thanks to everyone who participated in USF interviews and helped explain USGS scientific research and equipment to the campers. This event was possible and a success because of you." USGS participants were Julie Bernier, John Brock, Adam Brame, Michael Gray, Molly McLaughlin, Tara Miller, Christina Kellogg, Justin Krebs, Ilsa Kuffner, Chad Stout, Ginger Tiling, and Dana Wiese.
The summer program provides hands-on, real-world experiences in both laboratory and field environments for three weeks in June. A day camp that operates from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., the program is available to girls who have completed the eighth grade and live and attend school in Pinellas County, FL. Contributions from local individuals and businesses fund camp expenses. For more information, visit the Oceanography Camp Web site.
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Oceanography Camp for Girls
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