A new program at the University of Arizona: Girls on outdoor Adventure for Leadership and Science (GALS)

By Dr. Elise Gornish, University of Arizona Cooperative Extension

Despite recent attention and efforts, there remains a significant lack of women and racial minorities in science-related careers. In fact, women account for only 29% of the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce, while racial minorities account for only 11%. The STEM gender and race gap is largely due to cultural expectations and implicit bias that science is reserved for white men. Reinforcing negative stereotypes about girls and minorities in science lowers their test scores; however, encouraging their intelligence and potential enhances performance. It is crucial to reach girls in high school – before the gender gap in STEM emerges – and empower them to pursue their goals by strengthening science literacy, leadership, and teamwork. Research has shown that hands-on, immersive learning about science and teamwork enhances scientific understanding and enthusiasm.

To address the gender and racial gaps inSTEM, and to empower girls to pursue education and careers in science, four PhD students at Duke University developed a new program: Girls on outdoor Adventure for Leadership and Science (GALS) in 2016. GALS is a free hands-on, place-based science and leadership learning opportunities for female high school students not traditionally engaged as participants in science in an outdoor setting.  The overall goal of the GALS is to address the gender and racial gaps in STEM by empowering girls, especially those from underrepresented groups, to identify with science and pursue education and careers in STEM. Specific objectives of the project include: (1) Increase science proficiency of participating girls; (2) Develop science identity to support participants’ persistence in STEM education; and (3) Increase participants’ self-awareness, teamwork, and leadership skills. During GALS, high school girls learn ecology, earth science, chemistry, and geology by exploring local wildlands on a two week summer backpacking trip in the backcountry with graduate students in ecology programs. GALS participants pose questions, make observations, and design and carry out scientific investigations. As GALS is situated predominantly within backcountry ecosystems, field education (how to use a compass and a map, using vegetation and animal clues for orientation, etc.) is also be integrated into each curriculum. The first session of GALS was so successful, the Duke program reached out to other universities to gauge interest in extending the program nationwide. The School of Natural Resources and the Environment at the University of Arizona responded to the call and has been working to develop a GALS program in Tucson!

In partnership with several organizations, including Cooperative Extension, 500Women Scientists, and the American Association of University Women, individuals at the University of Arizona are currently planning on deploying the first GALS program this year! Participants will hike on Mount Lemmon and learn about ecology, wildlife, geology, and management of the Catalina Mountains through outdoor science. The small-group setting and place-based curriculum allows girls to learn, develop, lead, and work together in a supportive environment. We expect that the informal science learning experiences facilitated by GALS can foster girls’ STEM identity by enculturating them into a community of science role models and peers to develop science proficiency through legitimate participation in a scientific community of practice. The U of A GALS program expects to expand the current curriculum to include after program mentorship to

Current activities for program development include the organization of a fund raiser at Dragoon Brewery in mid April, curriculum creation and the identification of potential participants. The program will be completely free to all participants (including the availability of hiking and camping gear, food for the trip, supplies to conduct research projects, and travel) and will be funded entirely on grants, in-kind donations, and volunteer time.

If you or your organization might be interested in donating funds, supplies or time to the program, please email the current GALS Director at the University of Arizona, Elise Gornish at egornish@email.arizona.edu.


Photo credits: Duke University

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