On a recent Saturday on the campus of the University of Michigan, an educational outreach program called FEMMES (Females Excelling More in Math Engineering and Science) held one of its biannual Saturday Science Capstone events.

Two of the activities involved faculty and students from the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, among dozens of other volunteers and some 200 fourth – eighth grade students from Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Detroit. The events took place mainly in the Chemistry Building, as well as in C.C. Little and the Kraus Natural Science Building.

One of the activities, “Radical Reptiles!” allowed the students to explore the incredible lives of reptiles through hands-on demonstrations using reptile specimens provided by U-M Museum of Zoology’s Division of Reptiles and Amphibians. They performed close-up observations and investigations and learned about how adaptation leads to an amazing biodiversity of reptiles. A few live reptiles were in attendance.

Ann Marie Macara, a graduate student in the Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, ran the station along with Delaney Cargo, an EEB master’s student and Sierra Petersen, a postdoc in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. Macara is on the executive board for FEMMES as one of the Capstone Activity Coordinators.

"It was such a great experience!” said Cargo. “I'm very passionate about outreach projects that involve getting young women interested in the sciences and I am so excited to have had the opportunity to work with FEMMES in a hands-on learning environment. So often, young girls are made to feel as though science is not for them, and I think this is a major reason why we don't see more women pursuing these fields later in life. Getting girls interested and actively participating at a young age is a great way to counteract this.

"The girls were very enthusiastic to participate in the activity, which focused on reptilian adaptations, and they especially enjoyed examining specimens under the microscope. They came in with a lot of great questions and comments, and I was blown away by how much many of them already knew. When I asked one girl where she had learned so much about reptiles, she responded, ‘The Discovery Channel’."

“I strongly believe that these free day-long science capstones are a wonderful way to build a network of positive female role models for young students,” said Macara. “These mentors show girls that pursuing any of the STEM fields is a totally obtainable goal. By providing exciting hands-on activities, we are creating an atmosphere where science is fun and available to anyone. Besides, who doesn’t love a full day of awesome action-packed science learning?”