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WaterGirls: Science, Nature, and Inspiration!

By Maura Hahnenberger, Guest Blogger

DEQ invites guest bloggers to share their thoughts on issues that impact our environment. We appreciate their insights and the opportunity to broaden the conversation with others in the community.

28December2015_WG_03Growing up, both my parents were educators. So with summers off, we would go on long road trips across the country, visiting National Parks along the way. My favorite part was the ranger walks, where we would learn about the ecology and geology of the sites we passed on the trail. Those experiences were transformative for me at an age when I was just on the brink of developing dreams of who I wanted to be. The joy I found in identifying sandstone layers in the Grand Canyon or viewing bighorn sheep in Glacier National Park made it clear to me that I wanted to, should, must, become a natural scientist when I grew up.

WaterGirls came about from a desire to provide similar experiences to girls at that same critical time in their development. While doing science experiments in a classroom is a great learning experience, it does not give you the emotional experience of participating in science out in the field, where you personally interact with your environment and understand how it works.

WaterGirls is an iUTAH outreach program for middle school girls with three aims:

  • Learn about their local watersheds
  • Experience doing water quality science in the field
  • Interact with female science role models

28December2015_WG_05Small groups of students were paired on field excursions with local scientists in the fields of meteorology, hydrology, and chemistry. For some girls, this was their first time doing field science; for others, their first time ever visiting the canyons of the Wasatch Mountains. Many could only name one female scientist that they knew personally.

Such new experiences can be intimidating, so creating a welcome environment and a community of trust is important. Each program began with activities for the students and role models to get to know each other. Then it was time to travel to the first field site in Little Cottonwood Canyon to learn how to use water quality and weather equipment to better understand the environment of Little Cottonwood Creek. After brief training, it was time to collect data. Over the next two days, students visited and collected water and weather data at four sites in the canyons and discussed water quality, hydrologic systems, microclimates, and other topics inspired by the natural environment we traveled through.

The program ended with a gathering of everyone to share data, complete their analysis and graphing, and then create posters to communicate their learning to their friends and family. By the end of the program, the girls were excited to share their experience and stay connected to their new network of women scientists, who acted as team leaders and mentors.

Having now achieved my dream of being a natural scientist who gets to go out to the desert or mountains and do science for part of my job, I hope I can do anything I can to foster that interest in other young girls, who, perhaps, just need a little bit of opportunity, excitement, or inspiration to find a calling in understanding our natural world.

For more information about WaterGirls, or to get involved as a student, parent, or volunteer, please head to iUtah WaterGirls.

28December2015_Hahnenberger_Zion_cropI am an Assistant Professor in the Geosciences Department at Salt Lake Community College. I started the WaterGirls outreach program in 2015 and was previously an NSF GK-12 fellow acting as a scientist in the classroom in the Salt Lake City School District. I received my PhD in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Utah studying dust storms in the eastern Great Basin of Utah. For more information about WaterGirls, please visit iUtah WaterGirls.