ESU Celebrates International Day of Women and Girls in Science

Posted by: Elizabeth Richardson on February 21, 2019, No Comments

In a lecture hall in East Stroudsburg University’s Science and Technology Center elementary students watched as two household products created an “explosion”.  Their hands sprung up with questions for the four college students standing in front of them explaining chemical reactions. “Is this like a volcano?” “Did you always love science?” “What was your favorite thing to do as a kid?” “What Harry Potter house do you belong to?” “Can you add chemicals to change the color?” It was February 11, United Nations International Day of Women and Girls in Science, and 50 female students studying science and math at ESU hosted 87 girls from J.M Hill and Notre Dame elementary schools and East Stroudsburg and Notre Dame high schools to join them in celebrating the day.

Lelia Bouchekouk, a junior from East Stroudsburg majoring in chemistry, was one of three demonstrators for this particular experiment that captivated the elementary school students. “I went to J.M. Hill, I had the same teachers they had, I can relate to these students and they can relate to me!” Bouchekouk said. She believes her earliest interest in science may be linked to joining the environmental club and learning about recycling while a student at J.M. Hill, though she didn’t realize then that it was science.

Jessica Geiger, a sophomore majoring in physics from East Stroudsburg, Pa. and Morgan Buchter, a senior majoring in biology from Cresco, Pa., volunteered with high school students. For each, being a young woman studying STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) wasn’t always easy. “When I was in elementary school there was nothing encouraging girls to go into STEM,” Geiger said. Bouchekouk said she was always the only girl in her advanced math and science classes in high school. Buchter believes it is because of social norms, set generations ago, that women are underrepresented in the sciences.

Not seeing anyone like you in your classes can be discouraging, which is why ESU hosted such a big event. “Seeing that there are female college students and female faculty, here at ESU, that enjoy being in math and science fields, and who work or study at a walking distance from where these young girls go to school, might make the notion of being a scientist more real to them,” said Maria Soledad Cohen, instructor of physics. Cohen was one of 13 professors who helped get this initiative off the ground. She was joined by those who teach biology, chemistry, computer science, mathematics, physics, and psychology. “It is important to show students, female or male, that science is varied,” Cohen said.

Every field represented created a hands-on experience for the students participating. Geiger, who is planning for a future in aerospace engineering, taught young students about sound waves. Buchter, who has been accepted into the physician assistant program at Salus University upon graduation this spring, set up two very different hands-on labs. “For the high school students I set up a lung simulation model with water bottles, balloons, and straws. It is a visual way to explain how lungs work, and how the body gets oxygen. We also looked at lung tissues under a microscope and compared what healthy and unhealthy lungs look like.” For the elementary students, Buchter explained “we made ‘noodle anatomy.’ They drew a head with a marker on construction paper then used different types of pasta – penne, bowtie, and elbow – to create a body. Each type of pasta was used for different sections of the body.”

Science is the answer to everything, according to ESU’s students. “It’s how we walk, why things fall, even why it’s better to wear a helmet than not wear one,” said Geiger. “We kept repeating to the students with us how limitless science is,” according to Bouchekouk. “Whether through medicine, the environment, of countless other ways, science gives us a way to make an impact and better the world.”

Bouchekouk said wearing a lab coat and goggles might seem unattractive, and an unpopular choice when you’re in high school, but “to be intelligent is a really beautiful thing.”  She hopes more young girls will recognize this early in their academic careers. All three students agree, and say young girls shouldn’t be dissuaded from something that interests them because of their gender. “Follow your passion. If you like it, do it,” Buchter said. When a student asked Geiger how she knew she was meant to be in science, Geiger answered, “I told her I don’t know what is meant to be, but I do know this is what I like to do, and what I want to do.”

Bouchekouk, Buchter, and Geiger all wish days like this had existed when they were younger, and are happy to participate now. They also hope someday it won’t be necessary to host a targeted event for women in science – someday, they hope being a girl who likes science won’t seem out of the norm.

View photos from ESU’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science.