ICAT Grant Allows Continuation and Extension of Kindergarten Science Project

This photo shows a screenshot of a computer Zoom meeting with 11 women's faces on it, each with a joyful smile on her face. The women are Caucasian, Black, East Indian, Hispanic, and Iranian.
Project participants practicing their expressions of joy, from top left: Allie Castaneda, Carrie Kroehler, Mia Tankersley,Sarah Khatibzadeh; Abby Lewis, Ellen Garcia, Udaya Sree Datla, Amber Wendler; Jenny Appiah-Kubi, Kaitlin Read, Khanh To.

How do kindergarten children know girls can be scientists? Girls Launch! is a Center for Communicating Science and Department of Psychology project that provides female scientist role models to kindergarten children. With a grant from the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology (ICAT), we’ll be supporting 10 graduate students this summer in the creation of kindergarten-friendly videos.

The COVID-19 rapid response grant proposal grew from a kindergarten science visits project conceived in 2017 by graduate student Caitlin Colleary in collaboration with the Center for Communicating Science and the Department of Psychology. Girls Launch! has provided 20 science visits to the kindergarten children of Eastern Elementary/Middle School in Giles County since the project’s inception in November 2017.

Visits were discontinued this spring when the coronavirus pandemic resulted in school closures across Virginia. The ICAT grant support allows us to continue the project’s outreach and educational mission through the creation of science videos that can be used by teachers in classrooms or by families at home.

The grant also allows us to continue providing opportunities for researchers to develop their communication skills. “Girls Launch! Kindergarten Science Outreach Continuation and Expansion” will provide stipends to 10 graduate students for the production of science videos and activity guides related to their research and appropriate for a kindergarten audience.

The Girls Launch! science visits have provided science enrichment to the kindergarten children of Giles County. The visits also have provided female scientist role models to children at a point in their development when they’re beginning to form gender role assumptions.

During the second and third years of Girls Launch!, the project was expanded to an investigation of gender-based stereotypes, with the science visits by women defined as an intervention. For “Girls Launch: Who is Smart? Who is a Scientist?” psychology department research assistant professor Vanessa Diaz obtained IRB approval, permission from school principals, and consent from parents to do pre- and post-assessments of the kindergarten children at Eastern and another school in Giles County that does not receive the intervention. Preliminary results have been presented at professional meetings and are being prepared for publication.

For the in-person kindergarten visits, the Virginia Tech visitors, primarily graduate students and occasionally faculty or undergraduate students and all female, spend about half an hour in each of three classrooms at Eastern, engaging the children in science activities related to the researchers’ fields of study.

Over the three years of the project, children have learned about brains, chemistry, sustainability, DNA, mindfulness, bones, microscopy, surveys and interviews, seeds and seedlings, lemurs in Madagascar, wildlife in southwestern Virginia, states of matter, buoyancy, emotions, dinosaurs, fossils, and more.

The graduate students participating in this summer’s video recording project include

  • Jennifer Appiah-Kubi
  • Allison Castaneda
  • Udaya Sree Datla
  • Ellen Garcia
  • Sarah Khatibzadeh
  • Abigail Lewis
  • Kaitlin Read
  • Amelia Tankersley
  • Khanh To
  • Amber Wendler

The project team includes Diaz; Carrie Kroehler and Patty Raun, Center for Communicating Science; Lori Evans, kindergarten teacher at Eastern Elementary/Middle School; and Christina Martin, STEM coordinator for Giles County Public Schools.

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