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From a “Discrepant Event” to “The Chemistry of Ice Cream”

Janessa Schilmoeller 11 leads a miniature course on Amnesty International in Whitby Hall on Friday.
Janessa Schilmoeller 11 leads a miniature course on Amnesty International in Whitby Hall on Friday.
Melissa Kaelin

STEM education is the focus of a student visit by Laura Jeffrey Academy

St. Catherine University opened its doors to young women on Friday, as it welcomed students from Laura Jeffrey Academy, a charter school for girls in St. Paul.

The visit was one of three student visits that will be hosted over a span of two years at St. Catherine University. These visits are made possible by a Community Action Grant from the American Association of University Women that was awarded to the Office of Community Work and Learning to advance STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) initiatives in the St. Paul community.

Learning about the College for Women
From the moment the students first arrived at St. Kate's, they were kept busy with a full day of activities. Morning sessions were presented with a focus on gaining admission to a women’s college, and students heard from a panel of St. Kate’s students on their real-world experiences. Admissions staff wrapped up the morning sessions with games using college trivia.

After breaking up into groups, the young ladies were given a tour of the St. Paul campus. They dined in the University cafeteria, and in the later part of the day they had the opportunity to attend miniature courses given by students and faculty at St. Kate’s. The mini-courses were divided between STEM subjects and topics in the arts and humanities.

The woman as scientist
Professor Susan Goetz led one group of girls through a science class called “Discrepant Event.” She first asked students to draw an image of a scientist on a sheet of paper, then she engaged the students in a discussion on stereotypes and their preconceptions of what today's scientists look like. Many of the drawings depicted middle-aged men in their laboratories, though Goetz explained that a number of scientists working in the field are women.

After the brief lesson in debunking stereotypes, students worked with Goetz to predict how raisins would behave in a beaker of water, and how this behavior would change with the addition of vinegar and baking soda. What the girls learned was that they couldn’t predict the behavior of every raisin—that some would rise to the top, while others would bob near the bottom of the glass.

A wealth of opportunities
Throughout the day, St. Kate’s faculty shared an interactive and largely hands-on experience with the students, as students took classes ranging from “How to Check Your Vital Signs” to “Art and Identity.” The most popular class, “The Chemistry of Ice Cream,” helped students to learn about physical and chemical reactions, while allowing them to try their hand at making their own ice cream with the use of ice, salt and plastic bags.

Students also had a chance to see the diversity of the student body at St. Kate’s and to learn about opportunities the University offers on a global scale. In one mini-course, students talked to three international students about their experiences, and in another, students had a chance to petition the release of a political prisoner, as they learned about “Amnesty International.”

Other courses offered to Laura Jeffrey Academy students included:
• “Identity Matters”
• “Science of Psychology”
• “Intro to the Human Body and Health Careers”
• “Ecuador & St. Kate’s: Ecuadorian Women”
• “International Student Experiences and Home Countries”
• “Why College?”

Building relationships
Martha Malinski, Director of the Office of Community Work and Learning, said the student visit day developed out of a relationship with the Laura Jeffrey Academy that began more than two years ago. The office sought to create a relationship with the Academy that was mutually beneficial. Students from St. Kate’s offered to tutor young ladies in reading at the Academy — which uses the STEM model of education — while teachers from the Academy worked to train Katies on effective techniques in STEM classrooms.

“At more and more of our sites, it’s really about a math and science focus,” said Malinski. At the same time, she said schools are looking to bridge the achievement gap and create more understanding among ethnically diverse students—areas which are strengths in St. Kate’s hallways.

Malinski said though St. Kate’s has hosted students in the past, this was the first time the University hosted such a large group of students on this scale, offering a full-day agenda. All seventh and eighth grade students from the Academy participated in the visit, and in the fall, the University will host fifth and sixth grade students from Laura Jeffrey Academy.

Under the Community Action Grant, Katies are also working with students at the Academy in reading groups, to foster deeper understanding and literacy, and Katies are participating in training sessions with teachers from Laura Jeffrey Academy that will further them in their goals for higher education.


March 7, 2011 by Melissa Kaelin

See also: Arts, Education, Faculty, Leadership, Liberal Arts, STEM, Students