University of Glasgow’s School of Life Sciences stages crime-solving IWD event to encourage girls into STEM

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Many girls tend to lose interest in science around the age of 12-14 years and see Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) fields as being traditionally male-dominated, so it's important break down barriers to success for women wanting to pursue STEM-related careers. The earlier girls have access to STEM, the better.

Staff and students within the University of Glasgow's School of Life Sciences are always trying to engage people in STEM subjects through visiting schools, science festivals, or inviting groups of children in to the university for STEM-related events.

For International Women's Day, the School of Life Sciences welcomed local Brownies aged 7-10 years to a CSI STEM event where staff and student volunteers helped the Brownies complete several scientific investigations around a mock crime scene, narrowing down the suspects to identify the killer. Not only was this a fun activity, but the Brownies learned about the range of careers within Biology.

With World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) being one of International Women's Days Charities of Choice, an event like this reinforces the power of bridging support within the community.

International Womens Day Brownies

Using science activities to solve a crime

The full-day event saw separate groups of Brownies and Leaders attend a two-hour session. When they arrived, the Brownies were given the crime scenario: The Division Commissioner and a famous woman involved in Girlguiding had been murdered. The Brownies donned their lab coats and went to gather evidence from six activity stations across two teaching labs to discover who had committed the crime.

The activity stations included Fibres and Bones, DNA, Fingerprints, Poison Testing, Blood Typing and Body Painting. The girls looked at hairs and fibres in detail under a microscope, found out how bones and teeth help identify the age and sex of a body. They also had the opportunity to load samples on to a gel and find out that everyone’s DNA is different - except for identical twins - how that information can solve crimes. The Brownies also looked at different fingerprint patterns and examined their own fingerprint. 

University of Glasgow International Womens Day

Often, before major analysis is carried out, scientists use spot tests for initial analysis of poisons and blood. The Brownies got the chance to do their own spot tests, with mock samples, to determine the type of poisons present and the blood type recovered from the crime scene.

The Brownies had great fun at the body painting station where they learned about anatomical illustration and had biological artwork painted on their hands, such as a DNA double helix, a cell with their blood group or an atom.

Most importantly, the School of Life Sciences' IWD event was also an educational experience, where Brownies could chat to students at different stages of their science education as well as teaching and research staff and see how they, particularly as women, were thriving in STEM careers.

A collaborative effort 

Many members of staff and students at the University of Glasgow gave up their time to make the IWD event a success.

The STEM CSI activity, which has been part of the School of Life Sciences for a few years, was the brainchild of Dr Mary Mcvey and Mrs Angela Watt. Through their hard work and planning and through support from further members of staff, the activity has become a successful event developed into different formats depending on the facilities and target audience.

Diversity inclusion IWD

The CSI for Brownies event, inspired by IWD, was created by Mrs Tracy Wilson from the University of Glasgow's School of  Life Sciences as a way to encourage more girls to be involved and engaged with science.

“As a member of Girlguiding Glasgow I was aware that there was an interest in involving Girlguiding members in more STEM events and linking this with an Athena Swan event at the School seemed a perfect partnership,” explained School & Student Support Administrator Tracy. “I was delighted with the success of the event, everyone involved really enjoyed the day and we plan to run future events. This was definitely a team effort and it could not have happened without the help of everyone involved.”

The enthusiasm for the event extended across the School of Life Sciences - the University of Glasgow's management covered the cost of janitorial cover, the Brownie's lab coats and the activity materials. 

Seventeen staff and students volunteered for the event, many giving up their whole day. All the volunteers were motivated by such an enthusiastic group of girls, even encouraging some students to consider a career in teaching.

Positive feedback from Brownies, parents and leaders

The event was a new experience for the Brownies and received overwhelmingly positive feedback from the Brownies, parents and group leaders - with many of the Brownies stating they would love to pursue a career in STEM. 

“It was fun. I loved the activities they were good and I learned lots," said one Brownie from 15th Pack Glasgow. “It was great talking to all the scientists."

A badge was specifically designed for event participants and showed the partnership between the University of Glasgow and Girlguiding NW Division.

Making an ongoing commitment to an annual event

After the resounding success of the pilot, Girlguiding Glasgow and the School of Life Sciences have decided to make this activity an annual event, with the aim to invite more girls from across the Glasgow and other sections of Girlguiding.

The University of Glasgow's IWD event has truly sparked an interest and enthusiasm in STEM that will remain with the Brownies and encourage them to become our female scientists of the future.

Glasgow University - women's day


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