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    Posted October 13, 2014 by
    St. Louis, Missouri
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Girls in STEM

    Catalysts for Change: Science Explorations for St. Louis-Area 9th-Grade Girls

    Catalysts for Change is an outreach program for St. Louis high-school girls powered by Washington University’s undergraduate Women in Science Program, which is a four-year mentoring program for young women in the STEM disciplines started by Florence E. Moog Professor of STEM Education Gina Frey. The Women in Science program starts with a year-long course focused on women’s history in the STEM fields from the 19th century to the present that is co-taught by Gina Frey and Barbara Baumgartner, senior lecturer in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. The course explores the changing cultural contexts of women in the sciences and provides opportunities for undergraduates to meet female scientists working in academia or in industry. As part of the Women In Science program, the undergraduates help organize and lead Catalysts for Change, a two-day STEM workshop for high-school girls across the St. Louis area.

    The Catalysts for Change workshops happen on two Saturdays in April and draw a group of approximately 60 9th-grade girls who are interested in exploring the STEM disciplines. With the understanding that encouragement is a vital element in education and that learning often happens best through leading, mentoring is central to the Catalysts for Change Program. The program employs a three-tiered mentoring structure that gives graduate students the chance to create lab lessons and undergraduate women the chance to learn from female graduate students, while helping younger girls grow in confidence in the STEM fields.

    The Catalysts for Change Program is directed by Gina Frey and female graduate students in the Department of Chemistry. The program is co-organized and supported by Teaching Center staff such as Office Coordinator Mary Stewart, who takes care of all of the details of the days’ events, and Assistant Director Denise Leonard, who is pictured here serving as one of the lab leaders working with local high-school students Caroline Zupan and Pournika Muniyandi. Denise completed a PhD in Biology at Saint Louis University, where her dissertation focused on behavioral enrichment for Mexican gray wolves and African wild dogs. She joined the Washington University Teaching Center in January 2013 as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute postdoctoral fellow to help faculty in the natural sciences evaluate the impact of current curricular innovations and lead workshops for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in STEM. She has just joined the Teaching Center as an assistant director this fall, and in this new role, she will continue to bring her expertise in biology together with her passion for teaching to the work of training future faculty in evidence-based approaches to teaching.

    The Catalysts for Change program offers many gains for each level of students involved:

    Washington University graduate students designed fun science activities, including engineering an egg-launch, dissecting a starfish, and making liquid nitrogen ice-cream.

    Washington University undergraduate students:
    • Served as mentors for high-school students
    • Acted as team leaders to guide the students through fun experiments
    • Networked with diverse female STEM professionals working in various careers ranging from civil engineering to pharmaceuticals to zoo medicine

    St. Louis-area high-school students:
    • Learned about principles in materials science, the process of photosynthesis, and chemical properties and reactions. Learned also that they will need to develop a good foundation in the fundamentals of various STEM disciplines for more specialized study in the future
    • Connected with college students who showed them where they could be in their studies in a few years
    • Explored diverse STEM careers by meeting with successful women in STEM fields
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