BASE Camp Gives Female Teens the Promise of Science
A group of young women gathered around a table in Fairfield University’s DiMenna-Nyselius Library talking about how changing ocean currents are signaling climate change.
“By studying how the ocean moves, you can keep track of climate change,” said Veona Lanham, rifling through computer models and satellite data.
“There are higher temperatures these days because of the way the currents are moving,” added her classmate Shante Miller.
“I get it,” noted Bianca Colon-Hernandez, recalling the School of Engineering’srotating water tank that mimics the ocean. “Hot water comes up from the Equator, from the Tropics to the North Pole.”
What was even more interesting than the students’ cutting edge research was knowing that they are only in high school. They were among 23 students from Bridgeport high schools attending BASECamp, a two-week, residential camp in scientific research for female students. BASE (Broadening Access to Science Education) Camp is designed to engage students in hands-on, research-based experiences in the natural sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
Amanda Harper-Leatherman, Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry and camp director, said the overall goal is to excite and inform students about thepromise of science. “The program specifically targets young women, based on theoverall disproportional underrepresentation of women in science, math, and engineering careers in general,” Dr. Harper-Leatherman continued. “It’s part of an effort to increase interest in the pursuit of STEM and health careers after college.”
The camp also speaks to the University’s growing institutional commitment topromoting women in science. Serving as female scientist role models were facultyand undergraduates from the College of Arts & Sciences and School of Engineering.
Shelley A. Phelan, Ph.D., professor of biology and the Elizabeth DeCamp McInerney Chair of Health Sciences, started the program “because students from underfunded, inner city schools are at a major disadvantage in pursuing careers inscience, given their often-limited science resources in high school, and the level of experience and aptitude typically required of science majors in the very first year of college. By the end of the first college years, many interested studentsleave the major - not because they can't do it, but because they were behind right from the start.”
The six-year-old camp, including meals and lodging, is free to students, thanks to a grant Phelan received from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparity Populations.This year was the first that engineering was taught.
“Some campers had never heard of engineering,” said Shanon Reckinger, Ph.D.,assistant professor of mechanical engineering, who researches ocean modeling. Three of the students were studying her work this summer. Campers also explored the research of other Fairfield faculty in biology, chemistry, biochemistry, neuroscience, psychology, and mathematics.
For Bianca Colon-Hernandez, learning about engineering seemed a logical move because she’s curious about architectural design. “I don’t talk about science much at my high school with other girls,” noted the soon-to-be junior at Bullard Havens. “But here I’ve been talking about it with everyone.”
For Veona Lanham, 15, getting to know Dr. Reckinger has made her realize thatshe would like to major in mechanical engineering. “I want to come here,” said the Bullard student. Fellow campers looked forward to other activities, including college admissions counseling and science and health careers exploration.
Dr. Phelan, a molecular cell biologist who has been awarded grants to studyperoxiredoxins in breast cancer, hopes the camp will inspire other young women “to pursue science and health career paths that will address public health issues.”
“We have seen so many bright young women motivated by the program, andmany already declared science majors in universities - including our own,” she said. “We hope we can continue to inspire young women from our neighboring Bridgeport community for years to come.”