The twelfth annual ‘Reach for the Stars Stem Festival‘ , co-sponsored by the Ride Family Foundation and Rice Space Institute, was held at Rice University on Saturday, April 21st. It was a spectacular success. This festival, which targets middle school girls, includes a street fair, an inspiring talk by a woman astronaut, and roughly thirty women-led science and engineering workshops. The plenary talk was given by NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, who also happens to be a Rice Alum. This event turned out to be another opportunity for the Rice Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences Department to showcase its commitment towards science outreach and education.
The EEPS exhibit table engaged young girls with fun, hands-on activities like the plate tectonics (using Oreo cookies), along with the tried and true rock and mineral identification. Some of the modules presented were developed as a part of the EEPS Reach teaching program, and successfully kickstarted part of the workshop sessions.
It was amazing to see that the young girls were ecstatic to learn about science- and geology in particular- even if some of the girls only cared about eating the Oreo cookie continents. Not just the young girls were engaged. Some of the teachers accompanying the girls actually took notes on the hands-on activities (the Oreo cookie plate tectonic activity was an instant hit with both young and old alike), telling us that they would incorporate them in their classroom teaching. Perhaps this is the beauty of public outreach activities, to be able to connect with people in such a way that they start to care about science.
Graduate students Alana Semple, Juliana Spector, Laura Carter and Sriparna Saha represented the department at this event and mentored two 45-minute workshops focused on the Earth’s Interior (Differentiation and Convection) and the Earth’s Exterior (Wet Texas: from Floodplains to the Coast). Known formerly as the ‘Sally Ride Festival‘, this annual fair brings in hundreds of young girls to the Rice University campus, giving them a glimpse into the world of science in a way that excites them and encourages them to explore the world around them.