Young scientists prepare to address their colleagues at the Women in Science Symposium.
  • How We Learn: Sample Projects
  • Fourth Grade


Fourth Grade Girls Connect with Women Scientists

"For our Women in Science unit, we interviewed real scientists from all over the country by e-mail. We each were assigned to one scientist. Mine was Stephanie Burkhart, who is a Marine Protected Species Strategic Planner for the Coast Guard in Alameda, California. Before we began the e-mails, we did research in computer lab on women scientists from history, and also contemporary ones. Then, in writing workshop, we composed letters and the interviews. If you'd like to see some of the questions I asked Ms. Burkhart and her answers, click here:

"Along with our interviews, we also did a survey and tabulated how many scientists used writing in their work (100 percent!) and what percentage of them used the same kinds of math we do (graphs, geometry, computation, algebra). The culminating activity was the Women in Science Symposium held in the Conference Room. Each of us came dressed in what our scientist might typically wear to work. Some girls wore lab coats or hospital scrubs, but I wore a skirt and blouse, because that's what Ms. Burkhart wears. Our teacher asked us questions, like at a press conference, and we had to stay in character and answer the way our scientists would. Then at the end, we got to be ourselves again, and discussed what we'd learned and why it's important for women to be leaders in science. One person said, "We'll discover something new the world hasn't thought of yet." Another person said, "Girls could think they want to be scientists but then they might second-guess themselves. A role model would give them a boost of energy and show them they can do it!"

Fourth Grader, 2002

Teacher's Comment: Beginning in 1996, the Grade Four Teaching Team has presented a unit called "Women in Science." We feel that if we expect girls to take science seriously as a subject to study now, and as a possible educational or career path for the future, we need to offer them real-world, real-time women-scientist role models. Our current list of scientists who have committed to working with us includes seven college professors, a marine mammal biologist, a marine protected species strategic planner, an astrophysicist, a pediatric infectious disease specialist, a hydrologist, director of a nuclear magnet resonance facility, director of the Dolphin Communication Project, and an environmental specialist.

A few questions from fourth grader's interview with Stephanie Burkhart, M.Sc.:

What are your 5 top responsibilities at your job?
1) Provide biological and technical expertise in the drafting and design of the Coast Guard's Marine Protected Species Strategic Plan, Ocean Steward.
2) Develop marine protected species policy guidance and strategy for Pacific waters to minimize and avoid negative impacts to marine wildlife and to ensure compliance with protected species requirements.
3) Research and compile summaries of current marine wildlife issues, regulations, and laws.
4) Collaborate and work with federal and state wildlife agencies, enforcement officers and national environmental nonprofits on marine protected species issues.
5) Encourage ocean protection and conservation through educational program and help to foster a stronger environmental ethic among members of the Coast Guard as well as the general public.

What species are you focusing on right now?
Right this minute, I am focusing on Weddell seals in Antarctica and whales found in Pacific waters--blue, bowhead, fin, humpback, sei, sperm, right and gray whales.

What is your favorite animal that you have protected?
Hector's dolphins. They're only found in New Zealand. They are so cute and playful. Once you've researched them, you're hooked!

What do you enjoy about your job?
I like having the time to research and read about the current issues in my field. I enjoy traveling to conferences all around the world. I like the fact that I feel like I am making a difference and contributing in some way to making this world a better, more diverse place. I also like the flexibility of the hours.

What do you not like about your job?
Sometimes I miss being out in the field, getting my hands wet.

What do you wear to work?
I wear business attire-suits, slacks, blouses.

How do you get your information for your job?
I obtain the information for my job from many different sources-newspapers,
scientific peer-reviewed articles and journals, reports, books, e-mail discussion groups, etc... I also attend scientific conferences and meet with representatives from federal and state wildlife regulatory agencies, as well as members of non-profit groups.

Did you like science when you were a kid?
I liked all types of science, but definitely preferred biology, especially that which focused on animals. I particularly liked studying about various animal societies and behaviors.

When you were little did you know that you wanted to be a scientist?
No. When I was little, I wanted to be a detective. Then I decided I wanted to be a veterinarian. It wasn't until high school that I decided I wanted to be a marine biologist.

Who inspired you?
My parents and a college professor were my main inspirations and mentors.

Do you think that you have inspired someone else?
I do believe that I have inspired other people. In my last job, I supervised 30 marine naturalists. I encouraged and assisted many of them in pursuing their dreams and ambitions.

Did your family want you to be a scientist?
My family encouraged me to be whatever I dreamed of being. Even though
marine biologists don't tend to make very much money, my parents could see
that I was really passionate about it. They told me that it was much more
important to really love what you do than to make a lot of money at
something you don't like.

Were there any obstacles you had to overcome to get to be a scientist?
I really did not like to do animal dissections. I had to learn to get through them.

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Women in Science Survey Results (Total Number of Respondents: 28)

Age Range
20 - 35 50%
36 - 50 35%
51 - 65 14%
66+ 0%

Ethnic Heritage
African American 0%
Asian American 10%
Middle Eastern 0%
Caucasian 82%
Latino/Hispanic 7%
Native American 0%
Multiracial or Multiethnic 0%

Your work setting
In a lab 53%
Outdoors 35%
In a classroom 21%
In an office 85%

Computer 89%
Balance 32%
Microscope 28%
Thermometer 50%
Ruler 67%
Beakers 35%
All of the Above 35%

Math in your work
Yes 100%
No 0%

Writing in your work
Yes 100%
No 0%

Categories in math used
Graphs 96%
Geometry 46%
Computation 100%
Algebra 67%

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