Laura Sirot (center), assistant professor of biology at The College of Wooster, leads a workshop, titled "Amazing Invertebrate Adaptations," at this past Saturday's "Expanding Your Horizons" workshop for fifth- and sixth-grade girls.

Laura Sirot (center), assistant professor of biology at The College of Wooster, leads a workshop, titled "Amazing Invertebrate Adaptations," at this past Saturday's "Expanding Your Horizons" workshop for fifth- and sixth-grade girls.


‘Expanding Your Horizons’ Workshop Encourages Girls to Pursue Interest in Science and Math

Saturday’s conference draws close to 100 fifth- and sixth-grade girls to The College of Wooster

April 17, 2012 by John Finn

WOOSTER, Ohio — Step aside, guys! Science and math are no longer male-dominated domains. Just ask the girls who attended the annual “Expanding Your Horizons” workshop this past Saturday at The College of Wooster.

“I’m very interested in science,” said Sarah Downer, a resident of Wooster and a student at the nearby Montessori School. “I came (to the workshop) last year and learned a lot, so I signed up again to learn more this year.”

Downer and close to 100 other fifth- and sixth-grade girls from the tri-county area converged on Wooster’s science quad to participate in some of the 16 workshops offered. Topics ranged from “Raining Cats and Dogs,” “This One’s for the Birds,” and “Amazing Invertebrate Adaptations” to “You Are What You Eat,” “What Does Your Brain Do Anyway,” and “The Humpty Dumpty Experiment.”

Sponsored by The College of Wooster, the Wooster branch of the American Association of University Women, the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program, the Ohio Geological Society, the Wooster Book Company, and the Cat’s Meow, the series of workshops has been offered to young women in the area for more than two decades.

“This (workshop) is a very important because it helps the girls to see that science can be fun,” said Amy Jo Stavenezer, associate professor of neuroscience at Wooster. “It also introduces them to female role models who are faculty members and professionals as well as undergraduate students.”

In Stavnezer’s session about the brain, the girls were invited to observe and even touch real brains, from those of tiny mice to those from much larger animals. She also illustrated the approximate size of the human brain by holding two fists together and showing how the brain controls movement in all parts of the body. She described the brain as being like “Jello,” and told the students that unlike other parts of the body, the brain cannot heal itself. “That’s why we have to protect it,” said Stavenezer as part of a plea to students to wear a helmet when riding a bike, rollerblading, or skateboarding.

Another popular topic was “Raining Cats and Dogs,” featuring Cynthia Holz-Pelini, DVM, a veterinarian from Advanced Animal Care in Wooster. Participants performed short physical examinations on “Casey” the dog and “Hoot” the cat. They also inspected animal X-rays, which showed everything from broken bones to a pregnant cat’s unborn kittens. They learned the healthy body temperature for most mammals is 101.5 F, and saw specimen samples of common pet parasites, including tapeworms, ticks and fleas. “It’s rewarding for us to think that we can inspire future doctors, dentists, or vets,” said Holz-Pelini about the workshop, “I think it’s a great thing for young girls.”

In “POP goes the Weasel,” Rachel Coveny of Coveny Chiropractic demonstrated the importance of keeping one’s spine healthy through proper posture and exercise, and why our joints sometimes make those funny “popping” sounds. The demonstration featured a “build-your-own-spinal-column” station, using spools of thread, bungee cords, and gummy Lifesavers. Participants also got the chance to inspect spines and nervous systems on real specimens when they dissected Cornish hens, and learned how the brain “talks” to the rest of the body by examining sheep brains.

In addition to the middle-school students, several distinguished guests — including College of Wooster President Grant Cornwell and First Lady Peg Cornwell — made the rounds and took part in several sessions.

“We are so grateful to The College of Wooster,” said Karen Skubik, coordinator of the workshop. “I can’t imagine holding this anywhere else. In addition to college faculty serving as presenters, there has been a long-term commitment of College faculty and staff serving as organizers for the event. The College provides the space and students volunteer their time each year so that we can make this affordable ($10 fee) for anyone who wants to participate. It’s an awesome outreach activity.”

- Lee McKinstry '13 contributed to this story