DURHAM, N.C. – More than 130 middle-school girls and 60 volunteers from across eastern North Carolina converged on the Duke University Marine Lab on Saturday, April 1, for the second annual Girls Exploring Science & Technology (GEST) event. Participants travelled from as near as Beaufort, and from as far as Raleigh and Ocracoke Island.

Photo credit:  Anastasia Quintana, Duke Univ.

The goal of the event was to provide opportunities and role models in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, and to encourage students to become our next generation of scientists and engineers.

Volunteers from nine organizations or institutions led the students in 11 hands-on learning activities on topics that ranged from human DNA to dolphin ecology, and from water treatment to the use of drones in marine science and conservation.

Female scientists and engineers also presented talks and led panel discussions about careers and educational opportunities in STEM fields.

“Girls show high interest in STEM, but are not always aware of how they can pursue these interests as a career. Young women who maintain their interests through high school are more likely to know someone in a STEM field, have participated in STEM activities outside of school, and have higher confidence in their intellectual abilities than young women who are not as interested in STEM,” said Sarah Loftus, a doctoral student at the Marine Lab who helped organize the event.

“Our goal was therefore to provide role models for the girls to meet and talk to, introduce girls to a variety of STEM fields, and encourage them to think, do, and ask questions,” Loftus said.

In addition to Loftus, the GEST planning team was comprised of Vivienne Foroughirad, Caitlin Starks, Hillary Smith, Rachel Lo Piccolo, Liz Di Mattia and Anastasia Quintana of Duke, and Danielle Keller of UNC.

Event volunteers – many of whom were graduate students or local educators – came from Duke, UNC, NC State, the North Carolina Coastal Federation, the North Carolina Coastal Pines Girl Scout Council, the North Carolina Coastal Reserve, NOAA, Ocracoke School, and the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point.

Twenty-eight of these volunteers were Duke students or employees who either led activities, led groups, or provided logistical support. They were: Clara Bird, Kimberly Bourne, Emily Bowie, Dominick Brugnolotti, Will Cao, Sara Cleaver, Ginny Crothers, Sarah Cunningham, Cynthia Darnell, Sarah DeLand, Brad Dubik, Emily Hall, Jill Hattaway, Stephanie Holmer, Elsa Li, Abby Leinroth, Rafaella Lobo, Kelsey Mack, Elizabeth Mason, Megan Nasgovitz, Brooke Palus, Justyne Ross, Norah Rui, Leah Stauber, Courtney Swink, Martine Tremblay, Kim Urian, Danielle Waples, and Angie Wu. Additionally, Duke Marine Lab alumnae Dr. Vicky Thayer and Dr. Jocelyn Romano participated as keynote speaker and panelist, respectively.

The event was funded through support from the Nicholas School of the Environment’s Rising Tide Initiative, the Duke Marine Lab, the Pratt School of Engineering, the Duke Biology Department, and Duke’s Graduate and Professional Student Council.
Additional in-kind support came from the Beaufort Front Street Village, the Beaufort Coffee Shop, Kitty Hawk Kites, Marsh’s Surf Shop, Tierra Fina, Dunkin Donuts, the N.C. Coastal Pines Girl Scout Council, and the Duke Marine Lab.