The Wittkopp Lab presented "DNA Detectives."

Volunteers from the University of Michigan Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology play a key role year after year when FEMMES holds its Saturday Science Capstone events twice annually.

FEMMES stands for Females Excelling More in Math Engineering and the Sciences. The Winter Capstone will be held Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018. This article reports on the Fall Capstone held Saturday, November 11, 2017 on the U-M Ann Arbor campus. The free, daylong event involved nearly 200 4th to 6th grade southeast Michigan schoolgirls in engaging, exciting hands-on activities presented in a fun, supportive environment. FEMMES programs encourage girls to learn and explore their potential in science, technology, math and engineering (STEM).

Students from the labs of EEB Professor John Vandermeer and Ivette Perfecto (U-M School for Environment and Sustainability, SEAS) led a hands-on ecosystem connections activity titled "Hoot eats whom?" Students learned about food webs and how biologists study these interactions by dissecting owl pellets from two different species (barn owl and great horned owl) and comparing their content. Specimens from the U-M Museum of Zoology helped girls learn about the physical differences between the two owl species and their prey, and how these differences might influence what and how much they eat.

Activity leaders for Hoot Eats Whom were Sarah Barney (SEAS), Hagan Capnerhurst (SEAS), Gordon Fitch (EEB), Jonathan Morris (SEAS), Beatriz Otero Jimenez (EEB), Lauren Schmitt (SEAS) and Chatura Vaidya (EEB).

EEB graduate student Gordon Fitch helps students dissect owl pellets.

The "DNA Detectives" activity in the lab of EEB and MCDB Professor Trisha Wittkopp was organized by Petra Vande Zande (Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology).

During this activity, students first discussed why children often look like their parents. After determining that DNA is the molecule of heredity, students viewed stained DNA under the microscope in the nuclei of plants such as onions and carrots, and even their own cheek cells! Next, they performed a strawberry DNA extraction to see what DNA looks like outside of the cell.

“The girls learned that DNA is a real physical molecule that carries instructions for all living things, including themselves!” Vande Zande explained. Volunteers included: Andrea Hodgins-Davis (EEB), Mark Hill (EEB), Jun Li (EEB), Lisa Kim (EEB) and Abby Lamb (MCDB).

Anat Belasen, Marian Schmidt and Beatriz Otero Jimenez are on the FEMMES Executive Board. Marcella Nidiffer and Emily Laub were group leaders at the Fall Capstone (all EEB).

“Volunteering at these events is very rewarding and helps to rejuvenate my passion for science while sharing it with young girls,” said Schmidt.

A happy student shows off a discovery.

A couple dozen U-M departments and schools are involved in the FEMMES Capstone events including anthropology, biology, chemistry, EARTH, material and mechanical engineering, mathematics, psychology, the School of Public health and more.

“FEMMES is dedicated to closing gender and racial divides in computer science and STEM fields. Working specifically in diverse, underserved communities, FEMMES creates collaborative teaching and learning environments to promote leadership development, technical skills and self-confidence of women of all ages,” according to FEMMES website.

​​“We have strategically chosen to target grades 4-6 based on data published in a 2003 issue of the Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering, that demonstrated that age nine (grade 4) is the time period where girls begin to fall behind boys in terms of achievement and enthusiasm in STEM," the website states.

​“FEMMES was founded in 2006 at Duke University by undergraduate student Vicki Weston. In 2011, as a medical student at the University of Michigan, Weston established the U-M chapter which has grown rapidly. In addition, FEMMES has chapters at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and the University of Illinois.”

View more photos from the Fall 2017 FEMMES Capstone