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
"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,
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
that I was really passionate about it. They told me that it was much
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)
20 - 35 50%
36 - 50 35%
51 - 65 14%
African American 0%
Asian American 10%
Middle Eastern 0%
Native American 0%
Multiracial or Multiethnic 0%
Your work setting
In a lab 53%
In a classroom 21%
In an office 85%
All of the Above 35%
Math in your work
Writing in your work
Categories in math used
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