In the Name of Science

In the Name of Science

Sally Ride Science Festival promotes science, math education for girls.

A cup full of colored slime is something one exhibitor at the Sally Ride Science Festival wants girls to get excited about.

“Science is fun and slimy,” said Danielle Robles, mechanical engineer and Sally Ride exhibitor.

Robles was talking about her slime exhibit, featuring cups of food coloring mixed with glue and water. Visitors picked their favorite colored cup and added Borox to it, which, once stirred, turned the liquid into a thick ball of slime. This experiment was just one of many exhibits at George Mason University, Sunday, May 7, for the street fair at the Sally Ride Science Festival.

“Our mission is to engage [young girls] in fun, interesting and engaging science and technology related events,” said Brian Calle, spokesperson for Sally Ride Science. “It’s awesome.”

The Sally Ride Science company, founded by astronaut Sally Ride, hosts different events to encourage and support young girls who are interested in science, math and technology. One of the company's national sponsors, the Northrop Grumman Foundation, was the main sponsor at the GMU event. Northrop Grumman, an global defense engineering and technology company, provided volunteers to lead workshops and discussions about careers in science.

SALLY RIDE SCIENCE marketed the festival to local schools to encourage fourth through eighth grade girls to attend. This is the age when girls’ interest in science, math and technology drops, said Calle, so it is important to try to prevent that from happening. This is the third Sally Ride Festival at GMU, and Calle said the venue always produces a great crowd.

This year, the festival attracted about 300 girls to its presentations, experiments and educational talks dealing with science and technology. Girls arrived with their parents, walking through the outdoor street fair and checking out different subjects and career options, before breaking into groups for 26 specialized workshops. The workshops featured topics from chemistry and physics to aviation and engineering. One student, sixth-grader Peachie Blank, said she’d like to get into the field of bioengineering.

“I’m interested in engineering because I like to build stuff and help people,” said Blank. “It would be cool to help kids who are disabled.”

THE FAIR AIMED to make science experiments fun, with almost every exhibitor offering some kind of hands-on project or experiment. The exhibitors who didn’t have actual experiments for the girls to try still offered some kind of visual aide to their presentation. Kathy Sauers, exhibitor for Northrop Grumman, said her company has a real interest in expanding girls’ minds.

“In today’s day and age, everything is so instant,” said Sauers. “We’re trying to get them thinking about real problem solving.”

The Northrop Grumman street fair exhibit offered take-home “mind-teasers.” Girls could take home different cubes filled with problem-solving puzzles, made to get girls' minds thinking, said Sauers.

Groups of girls surrounded Steven Williams, director of education at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, for most of the day. They were listening to his talks about different natural processes relating to gases and rocks. Williams passed around pieces of granite and volcanic glass, showing the correlation between the two.

“It’s the same stuff, it just cooled differently,” said Williams.

Farther down the path of exhibits, DNA building blocks could be found. The blocks allowed girls to build and connect them together, in ways much like real DNA.

“You get to learn more about DNA and how they connect,” said Jennifer Torrez, a fifth-grade student at Arlington Elementary.

Girls were running and playing from exhibit to exhibit, many dragging their parents behind them. Most parents seemed happy to be there though, since it was a step toward ambition and dreams for many girls. James Williams said he came to support his daughter, Jamee, because she likes science.

“I thought it would be fun to see what was here,” said Jamee Williams.

Tracie Willstatter said she just wanted to expose her daughter to what was out there.

“In schools, [students] don’t see a lot of math and science,” said Willstatter. “This is a way for them to see they’re not strange; that science is cool.”