Kindergarten Science Visits Program Expands to Research Project

A young woman speaks to a couple kindergarten children in a brightly decorated classroom.
Kat Bland was one of our earliest kindergarten science visitors.

Girls Launch!, a program initiated in the fall of 2017 by Communicating Science “graduate” Caitlin Colleary and supported by the Center for Communicating Science (CCS), has resulted in two years of monthly science visits by women graduate and undergraduate students to kindergarten children at Eastern Elementary/Middle School in Giles County—and an investigation of gender-based stereotypes.

Vanessa Diaz, research assistant professor in the psychology department, began a collaboration with the CCS during the first year of the program, with psychology graduate students providing some of the science visits. Last year Diaz obtained IRB approval and permission from school principals to do pre- and post-assessments of the kindergarten children at Eastern and another school in Giles County that does not have the monthly visits by women scientists.

The research, and the Girls Launch! program itself, was inspired by a study showing that gender stereotypes about intelligence appear in girls between the ages of 5 and 6.

With the preliminary data analyzed, Diaz and her students have presented the project at professional meetings. Diaz and her team attended the Cognitive Development Society’s Biennial Meeting this October in Louisville, Kentucky. A first-authored poster presentation by senior undergraduate research assistant Cameron Smith shared information the team had gleaned from the pre-assessments of the kindergarten children. Smith received a travel award from Virginia Tech’s Office of Undergraduate Research to attend and is applying to present at the Dennis Dean Undergraduate Research and Creative Scholarship Conference on April 24, 2020. Diaz also presented information about the project at the November 6 meeting of Women in (Geo)Sciences.

Spring semester’s science visitors included

  • Amelia Tankersley and Madeleine Bruce, mindfulness
  • Dana Korneisel and Khanh To, fossils
  • Carrie Kroehler and Hayley Oliver, exploring seeds
  • Meredith Semel and Hayley Oliver, lemurs in Madagascar
  • Tatiana Garcia-Meza and Tyler McFayden, brain science
  • Hila Taylor and Kat Black, bats and tortoises

Each visit involves doing activities with three different classrooms of kindergarten children, with visitors spending about two hours at the school.

Diaz and Center associate director Carrie Kroehler have provided faculty support to the students engaged in outreach to the sixty children in the kindergarten classes at Eastern. The gender-based stereotypes research will continue through this academic year of visits.

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