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Girl Scouts get a feel for science and technology

MEDFORD — More than 175 girls, parents and siblings packed the Girl Scouts of Oregon and Southwest Washington Medford Service Center Saturday for STEM Day.

It was the first large-scale STEM-focused event for the regional council, which held events to show girls that math- and science-focused careers don’t involve only labs and computers.

From one end of the council property to the other, girls wandered between booths featuring everything from cave exploring and beekeeping to identifying — and even inspecting — different kinds of scat and animal hides.

The offerings were entirely hands-on, with girls getting to touch and examine a giant snake and a giraffe skull. At one table they crafted homemade slime, at another they got to try CPR on an infant-sized doll, and at another they watched a 3-D printer at work.

The council hosted special events throughout the month of April, including an astronomy event hosted by OMSI in Portland.

Karen Hill, CEO of Girl Scouts of Oregon and Southwest Washington, said she was impressed with the scale of the event, with agencies ranging from Bureau of Land Management and Wildlife Safari to Southern Oregon Skywatchers in attendance.

“I think it was amazing. I know we had 140 registrants, and we had additional people who came along, as well. It was amazingly well attended, and what I love is that it brings across the message really clearly that STEM is not just engineering and computers and tech,” Hill said.

“It also includes all these natural sciences and so many other things. And then to have these awesome women here that they see as role models.”

Hill said the focus was to get girls engaged with activities and learning concepts that could lead to career paths in math- and science-related fields. Shayna Perkinson, a Medford troop leader, said the event was a hit with the girls.

“Our troop was drawn to it mostly because there was going to be people in the field who they could have those relatable experiences with and have hands-on experiences. We were really excited to meet professionals and to get the chance to touch stuff and try it,” Perkinson said.

“Everyone has been so engaging at all the different stations. It was really cool to watch the girls get outside their comfort zone and try things they might have found icky or embarrassing or uncomfortable. The owl pellets was one they weren’t quite sure about, until they got into it, and the hissing cockroaches. When they’re doing it together, they’re willing to give it a try.”

Nine-year-old C’Vara Rubiano was excited to hold a snake for the first time.

“It was a little one. I was surprised it actually felt soft and not slimy or hard,” said the third-grader. “We got to learn about all kinds of different things today.”

Medford grandmother Gloria Butler was impressed with the event and said she enjoyed seeing the girls have access to such a tangible array of career options. Butler said her granddaughters held a snake, touched animal hides, wandered inside a portable cave hosted by Oregon Caves National Monument and learned about beekeeping.

“They had really great displays. I even enjoyed just walking around seeing it all. The science stuff, the microscopes, beekeeping — they talked about bee lifespan and how they color code the queen to see how old she is,” Butler said.

“Then Wildlife Safari and the animals and letting them experience the feel of different animals so they’re not afraid of them. This was more hands-on than I was expecting. I was almost expecting to get here and be bored as an adult, but it was interesting for the girls and the adults.”

Jamie Cleaver, education coordinator for Oregon Caves, set up and hosted the giant inflatable “Cave Crawler,” a faux cave filled with stalactites and stalagmites.

“I was excited when I heard about this event and for the chance to participate,” Cleaver said. “It’s important to have these types of opportunities here for the girls so they can be immersed in learning about things like the caves, even if they can’t make it to the real caves. We all learn by doing. This was a really great event.”

Butler said she hoped to see an increase in STEM-focused activities to encourage girls to explore different fields.

“I had one granddaughter, this morning, who was like, ‘I don’t want to do school stuff on a Saturday.’ And she has had so much fun,” Butler added.

“She touched a boa constrictor and looked through the telescope. She was really into all the things she got to see and do today. I think this was really amazing, and I hope they do even more.”

Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

Photo by Buffy Pollock Wildlife Safari zoologist Leila Goulet talks to local Girl Scouts about a half dozen animals, including a bird, a boa constrictor, skunk, hissing cockroaches and turtles at Saturday's event.