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“Density Breaks My Heart” | UMKC Women Encourage Next Generation of Female Scientists

Alexis Bridges talked to a group of middle school girls gathered around test tubes and bubbling liquids at Science City in Union Station, and she presented a clever device used to remember the equation for density.

“Density breaks my heart,” said Bridges.

She demonstrated this idea by drawing a heart with a horizontal line across it. The girls immediately copied down this “equation”, seeing how the M and V combined to look like a breaking heart.

Bridges and other women at UMKC visited Science City on Feb. 3 to participate in the Science Pioneers’ Expanding Your Horizons event. This event is targeted at middle school girls and aims to foster an interest in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) field, something they may normally not be exposed to.

“The goal is to get sixth to eighth grade girls interested in science because we need girls to continue to go into STEM fields,” said UMKC Biology Professor Dr. Tammy Welchert.

“The scientific literature says that most people make a decision about what they’re going to do with their lives in middle school…k-12 systems [are] telling girls ‘math is hard’, ‘science is hard’, ‘don’t you want to be a teacher?’ If we can get them interested in science and we can be passionate and excited about it — and do fun things — then that just fuels them to move forward in the pathway.”

Sophomore Daniya Mozaffar is a member of Science Pioneers and has personally benefited from having someone lead her into the STEM field when she had previously been intimidated.

“The biggest reason I got into science was the female role models I had in my life. Everywhere you look… it’s always male scientists. There was never anyone I could look up to so I was scared to pursue my passion in it,” said Mozaffar. “My biology teacher in middle school, Mrs. Bonner. She made me love science, and I’m so grateful to her for that. I think having role models for girls is really important.”

Welchert has been leading a group of high-performing female biology students that teach scientific concepts to middle-school students for over five years. Not only does it enrich the middle-schoolers’ science education and bolster their enthusiasm, but it also benefits the women who are a part of the Science Pioneers team.

“I think the best part about [Science Pioneers] is that the girls end up teaching me more than I teach them. They’re all such creative and intelligent thinkers. It’s amazing,” said Mozaffar. “Like one girl, in response to our questions about why a specific bug can float on water, said that it might have oil on the bottom of its legs, which I had never even thought of.”

This year, Expanding Your Horizons had 20 different workshops for girls to choose from. UMKC led “Water Olympics: Who Will Take Home the Gold” and explored the different properties of water. The middle-school students were able to attend two workshops as well as have free time in Science City. Registration closed before the day of the event as fire-code capacity was reached.

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