Galaxy Pancakes, Dragon Genetics, and Wild Wonders Taught Here!

Hilary Peddicord at the Women in Science event
Hilary Peddicord, of CIRES and ESRL, at the annual Women in Science event in Laramie, Wyoming
June 30, 2015

Classrooms at the University of Wyoming were filled with a different kind of student and different kinds of lectures on May 19. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) topics ranging from to health and zoology to earth and planetary sciences attracted some 500 young women, grades 7-12, to the annual Women in Science (WIS) event held on the Laramie campus since 1998.

"This springtime field trip is one that teachers from all across Wyoming look forward to," said Shawna McBride, Associate Director of the Wyoming NASA Space Grant Consortium and Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research or EPSCorR, and organizer of the event. "WIS aims to give the students—especially young women and minorities—positive role models in the science, mathematics, and technological fields, and encourage them to pursue higher education and careers in mathematics and science," she continued.

Since its start in 1998, WIS has been supported by NOAA's National Weather Service Office in Cheyenne and the Wyoming NASA Space Grant Consortium. A delegation of outreach staff from the NOAA Boulder facility has also participated for years. This year, Debe Fisher and Annie Reiser of the Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL), treated attendees to some popular posters on climate change and other NOAA "goodies" at the NOAA table, and chatted with the girls about their interests and what kinds of career opportunities NOAA offers. They also helped shuttle the groups across campus to and from the different sessions, such as "What's Beneath Our Feet," "How We Can Help Birds of Prey," and "The Secret Life of Yogurt: Probiotics and Prebiotics".

students at the event
Approximately 500 young women, grades 7-12, attended the event.

Presenter Hilary Peddicord, a Wyoming native and CIRES educator at ESRL, enticed three groups of about 20 girls each to her workshop sessions titled, "Earth as a system: the butterfly effect." She purposely put the phrase "butterfly effect" in her title to lighten the message. "This is a heavy topic, kind of depressing," said Peddicord. "I could feel push back . . . but I believe that because I carry this knowledge, it's my civic duty to help convey to the public the impacts involved with the declining health of the Earth system."

It's no wonder that some of the girls were uneasy with this subject—so are many of the adults in Wyoming. During the last couple of years, lawmakers, parents, and the governor of Wyoming have publicly argued about whether public schools in the state should teach about climate change. Fisher and Reiser learned from the visiting teachers, who scooped up posters "Life Zones Reflect Climate Change," and "Ten Signs of a Warming World" for their classrooms, that they include climate change as part of other themes, such as water resources, weather, or the broader theme of "inquiry." These materials—along with what they learned from the conference—will help them explain the importance of embracing the science surrounding the issue and teach the things we can do to help mitigate the negative impact humans have on our climate.

That's also the message Peddicord got across in her frank discussions with the students. They came away with knowledge about the impacts of CO2, how it's generated, and ideas for things they can do to be part of the solution. The pupils were surprised to learn, for example, that diet is a contributor to our carbon footprint; that drought in California can have a big impact on the citizens of Wyoming; or that Wyoming might be one of the climate change "winners", getting warmer and wetter in the future. "I'm just glad," said Peddicord, "that the girls thought about the topic today and voiced the tiny things they can do to help fix it."

Helping them make connections with people who are accomplished in mathematics or science-related occupations can be a powerful way to promote student aspirations and achievements. The NOAA Boulder Outreach and Coordinating Council supports such forums for young women and girls to learn about the many opportunities available in math, science, and technical-related career fields, because it strongly believes there is no better inspiration than personal connections with professional women in those career fields.