Grad students volunteer to engage young girls in science


By Gail Kuhnlein
Apr 03, 2014 Bookmark and Share

Anat Belasen, Susan Cheng, Clarisse Betancourt Roman and Marian Schmidt volunteering for FEMMES.

Anat Belasen, Susan Cheng, Clarisse Betancourt Roman and Marian Schmidt volunteering for FEMMES.

Have you ever concocted liquid nitrogen ice cream, created “elephant toothpaste” or extracted strawberry DNA?

FEMMES is short for Females Excelling More in Math, Engineering, and Science. This University of Michigan student-led outreach organization holds several events that engage young girls in the greater Detroit area in all manner of creative projects in computer science and science, technology, engineering and math (CS/STEM).

EEB graduate students Anat Belasen, Clarisse Betancourt Román, Susan Cheng, Alison Gould and Marian Schmidt volunteered for the FEMMES capstone workshop in March.  

Betancourt Román and Belasen led a second and third grade group through a fun-filled array of workshops. Together, they tested soil chemistry of organic vs. potting soil; concocted liquid nitrogen ice cream; created "elephant toothpaste" wherein a huge tube of rainbow colored foam came out the top like toothpaste once the yeast catalyst was added; and extracted DNA from strawberries.

“During some free time the girls really wanted to check out the downstairs atrium in the Chemistry Building, so we went down there and had a quiet dance party to some of their favorite songs,” said Belasen. We played bumper cars with some rolling chairs in the DNA room. The girls were from a few different schools in the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti areas.”

Cheng took a group of fifth graders to four workshops throughout the day on insect pollination, crystal structure, paper airplane engineering, and cell division. “The goal is to show girls that women are active in science and that there are a diversity of different STEM fields that exist and are relevant to their lives,” said Cheng.

FEMMES is dedicated to closing gender and racial divides in CS/STEM through hands-on activities led by female faculty, graduate students and undergraduate students. Working specifically in diverse, underserved communities, FEMMES creates a collaborative environment that helps young girls build knowledge and confidence in CS/STEM and exposes them to great role models so that they may pursue their dreams without hesitation. These activities take place at various events throughout the year, including biannual day-long capstone events, after school activity evenings, and community based events at local libraries.

Read more on the Rackham Graduate School blog