For the past two summers, Knox College has opened its science classrooms and laboratories to sixth- through eighth-grade girls who could someday be successful scientists.
A dozen junior high girls per year from all over the country were selected to attend the Knox Summer Science Camps in 2005 and 2006, funded by the College's $1 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Co-directors of the camp were Judith Thorn, associate professor of biology, and Mary Crawford, associate professor of chemistry, with numerous faculty teaching courses.
The free, week-long residential camp targeted potential female scientists at an age when most girls begin to lose interest in the sciences. Because Knox has above-average numbers of female science faculty and students, the camp served as an outreach program that facilitated interaction between junior high girls and successful undergraduate and faculty scientists.
From forensics to robotics and including hands-on experiments and an overnight trip to Green Oaks Biological Field Station, the curriculum at the camp was designed to increase the probability of college attendance and participation in the sciences and to help close the gender gap in fields where women are traditionally underrepresented.
"It catches everybody in some subject so they can carry that through the rest of junior high and into high school," says Emily Jackson '08, a physics major and one of several Knox students who served as teaching assistants and role models for the participants.
Each of the students chosen came from a different school, so the camp could provide a blank social slate and healthy learning environment. Crawford said the bond between the participants is strong. "I still hear from the girls from the first year, and they keep in touch with each other, too," she says.
In the last two years of the four-year HHMI grant, Knox will continue to broaden student access to science education and careers by offering workshops for regional secondary science teachers looking to enhance classroom preparation and instruction.