What scientists look like

BY IAN MURPHY | APRIL 14, 2014 5:00 AM

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Scientists don’t always wear white lab coats and goggles.

They don’t always have the crazy, spiked-up, white hair 10-year-old Keokuk native Korbyn Sangster pictures.

Sixty girls roamed the University of Iowa Seamans Center opn April 12 for the second Black Girls Do Science, a day camp for fourth- to eighth-graders to dispel some of these stereotypes and to allow girls interested in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematic fields to experiment in these areas.

Activities included making lip gloss and hand lotion, casting a broken bone, and coding on a computer to create variations of the popular game Flappy Bird.

“We want to tell them everything they do comes from science,” wrote Bryne Berry, a graduate student in engineering and National Society of Black Engineers Black Girls Do Science committee head in an email.

According to the National Science Foundation, only 2 percent of engineers nationally are black women.

In a November 2013 report by the foundation, there were 10,000 black women employed as engineers, compared with 125,000 white women.

Berry said she hoped the event would help change the perception of white males in lab coats as scientists.

“Getting the girls to see women who look like them really drives home the message that black girls do science,” she said in the email.

The name for the event drew criticism, Berry said.  However, anyone could attend, regardless of race or sex.

She said the name is bold but the committee has no plan to change it.

“We wanted to augment, not replace, the STEM programs focusing on getting girls and young women interested in science by also focusing on the very stark racial and gender disparity in STEM,” she said in the email.

Victoria Henry, a graduate student in chemical engineering and president of the UI chapter of the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers, led the lip-gloss and hand-lotion activities.

She said the activities were designed to show the girls science is all around them and to help them see science is easy and can be done with items around the house.

“I wanted to bring the girls something they can relate to,” Henry said. “I didn’t want them to be intimidated.”

Henry said she hoped the event would help girls think like engineers.

“I think it’s important for females as a whole to know they can pursue a degree in science fields,” she said.

And for most of the girls, it did, especially Korbyn, who wants to grow up to be an engineer.

“I thought it was pretty awesome,” she said. “I used to not like science, but now, I love it.”

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