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Narrowing the Gap

Alissa Widman Neese • Aug 27, 2014 at 2:41 PM

For a few minutes Friday, Savannah Berlin was a full-fledged forensic scientist.

She swabbed for evidence, recorded her fingerprints and examined strands of hair under a microscope.

Before Friday, most of Savannah’s classmates only witnessed crime scene investigations while watching an episode of “CSI” on television.    But this Sandusky Central Catholic School eighth-grader has already enjoyed the thrilling experience twice at a local college campus.

“I want to be a forensic anthropologist someday and take bone marrow samples,” Savannah said. “Doing this helps because I can get some experience in a field that people don’t think about all the time.”

About 100 girls in seventh and eighth grade flocked to BGSU Firelands on Friday for the college’s fifth-annual Women in STEM Conference. The day-long event aims to expose women to the traditionally male-dominated fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Students from Danbury, Perkins, Sandusky, Sandusky Central Catholic and St. Peter schools participated. Many, like Savannah, have attended two years in a row.

The program included four workshops: animal science, epidemiology, forensic science and software development.

Each provided hands-on activities and a glimpse into a “day in the life” of someone working in each career path.

The Toledo Zoo and Erie County Health Department hosted the animal science and epidemiology workshops, respectively. Imagination Station, a science center in Toledo, kicked off the event with a fun and educational keynote presentation.

Danbury Schools teachers Adam Steinbrick and Kim Bossetti said they bring a group of students to the Women in STEM Conference every year.

“Every time, you can see the excitement in their faces and tell it’s sparking an interest,” Bossetti said.

BGSU Firelands modeled its program after a Women in Science program started in 1988 at Bowling Green State University main campus, said Kelly Cusack, director of the Office for Educational Outreach at BGSU Firelands.

At that time, studies from the National Science Foundation indicated women represent about 44 percent of employees in all fields but accounted for only 15 percent of scientists and engineers.

Although they’re making strides, women are still greatly underrepresented in such careers.

“Many girls might still be taught the expectation that they should consider fields like teaching and nursing,” Cusack said. “Through this event, we want to evolve their thinking and expose them to careers they otherwise might not have considered.”

Danbury Schools eighth-graders Lily Bishoff and Sarah Bossetti, who both also attended this past year, said they enjoyed Friday’s Women in STEM Conference because they’re considering science-related careers.

The animal and forensic science activities particularly interested them, they said.

“This was a more hands-on way to learn, which makes it easier to pay attention and have fun,” Lily said. “It was really cool.”

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