G5: Girls Are the 5th FUNdamental Force

SPS Chapter Awards

G5: Girls Are the 5th FUNdamental Force

2017–18 SPS Future Faces of Physics Award

Coe College

Project Lead: Anne Ruckman

Chapter Advisor: Firdevs Duru

Project Summary: The underrepresentation of women in physics has motivated our SPS chapter to proactively engage the next generation of scientists. Our chapter used a Future Faces of Physics Award to implement a mentorship program for girls at Franklin Middle School and Harding Middle School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. We visited the schools for five mentoring sessions and then invited the girls to campus for interactive demonstrations, research laboratory tours, and hands-on experiments.

For this project, we recruited undergraduates from Coe College’s SPS chapter, Physics Club, Women in STEM organization, Chemistry Club, Biology Club, Mathematics Club, and Computer Science Club to mentor local middle school girls. By bringing together mentors with diverse passions, we were able to offer the girls a greater range of engaging opportunities and expose them to more possibilities for their future. Each volunteer mentor was matched with one of two schools.

The mentors traveled to their respective middle schools for five one-hour after-school sessions. During the sessions, a program leader taught the girls to program robots through MakerBot, helped them analyze the effectiveness of various sunscreen brands with UV beads, and explained light diffraction with balloons and lasers. SPS members assisted small groups and encouraged participants to discuss their goals and interests. Additionally, SPS members led sessions on the forces that cause soil erosion, animal cells, denatured proteins, and the effects of electric charge on the human heart.

This program gave SPS members the opportunity to not only interact with future female physicists, but also develop personal relationships with the 46 middle school participants. Fourteen SPS members served as mentors, and eight more SPS members led sessions when the participants visited campus for our first Women in STEM @ Coe Day. It was wonderful to witness mentors and mentees gain more confidence in themselves as they conversed about their scientific journeys, academic plans, and personal struggles. Additionally, the male SPS members acquired a greater understanding of the challenges faced by women in physics, discussed how to better support minorities, and served as examples of supportive peers for the young women.

Our SPS chapter hosts annual community events and frequently visits middle and high schools; however, this was the first program we offered with sessions that were completely student developed and executed. Through this experience, our SPS chapter grew closer to other campus organizations, learned to work with the local middle school administration, and truly developed relationships with local youth. We hope to repeat this program each spring.

For more details on this project, visit our SPS award page at spsnational.org/awards/future-faces-physics-award/2018/coe-collegeMentors Sam Collins, Amy Houle, and Megan Houle take a break from talking about careers in STEM to pose for a picture with middle school participants. Photo courtesy of the Coe College SPS chapter.