With five teachers serving as mentors, the group followed a rigorous class schedule, which promoted computer, math and science skills and provided hands-on experiences. The program is designed to help girls develop an interest in these subjects by allowing them to work on a practical, interesting scientific problem using the latest computer technology.
Now in its 10th year, but its first at Wittenberg, the YWSI was created in response to the lack of interest in math and science among girls, along with low participation in the science and technology fields, especially information technology by women. YWSI introduces participants to exciting careers and job opportunities and to successful women in the sciences with a featured “scientist of the day” throughout the week.
Wittenberg faculty members Margaret Goodman, associate professor of biology and director of biochemistry/molecular biology, Elizabeth George, associate professor of physics and department chair, Nancy Saks, professor of computer science, and Jo Wilson, professor of psychology, taught the modules. Each module emphasized experimental design and modeling.
The students and teachers were introduced to computer programming and selected computer applications relating to three areas of scientific inquiry: structural biology, biophysics and physiological psychology. They also extended the applications into group projects, which they presented to classmates and parents in the closing session.
For instance, George led a module on the biomechanics of walking.
“The students used ultrasonic motion detectors hooked up to computers in order to measure how fast they can walk and then used the computers to take and analyze videos of themselves walking so that they could investigate the biomechanics of walking and answer the question ‘what limits how fast you can walk?’” George said.
Later, a group did a project to compare the mechanics of walking between girls and boys, taking videos of several girls and several boys, and analyzing the leg movements for both girls and boys. Another group did a project that involved walking on a treadmill set at various angles, and they measured blood pressure and heart rate as well as looked at videos of the walking motion.
“The students asked a lot of insightful and creative questions and did a great job on the activities and projects (as did the teachers who were mentoring them). It was fun and inspiring to see the students make connections between the real world and the math they had learned in school and to see them enjoying doing science and working with the computers,” George said. “I enjoyed working with them and learned from some of their questions and insights as well.”
According to Barb Mackey, director of community programs, the group stayed on campus at the Polis House during the weeklong program. They ate meals in the university’s Center Dining Room (CDR) and had a full schedule of classes and activities throughout the days and evenings, including a day at AVETeC, a Springfield technology company devoted to computer simulations of jet engine testing. While there, the students engaged in hands-on exploration of modeling in aerospace design and computer visualization.
“The program was very sophisticated with project-based learning,” Mackey said.
- Phyllis Eberts
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