For the last week of June, thirteen middle school girls from as near as Champaign and as far as Putnam County descended on the IGB to learn about plant response to global climate change in both the distant past and coming century. The girls, participants in the IGB’s Pollen Power! summer camp, visited labs, met with experts, and engaged in hands-on activities with female mentors and role models in order to envision themselves as future scientists.
Campers learned about geologic time, technology, and plant structure through engaging with IGB members and staff representing several departments. “It is interesting, super fun, amazing totally awesome and one of the best camps I’ve ever been to in my whole life,” said one attendee. “You get to try new things and learn new things!”
The girls had the opportunity to use million-dollar microscopes under the guidance of skilled volunteers from the IGB’s Core Facilities, visit high-tech research fields at the SoyFACE experimental farm, and learn about pollinators in campus laboratories and at the University of Illinois Pollinatarium. Throughout the week, campers worked in groups to learn how to identify individual grains of pollen, then imaging and finally 3D printing blown-up models of common plant pollens like sunflower, cattail and lily.
At each step of the way, the campers learned from female scientists at various stages in their careers, from graduate students, to young investigators, to established researchers including National Medal of Science recipient May Berenbaum. “A scientist can be anyone,” said one participant at the end of the week. “In some ways, everyone is a scientist because everyone wonders about the world around them.”
Throughout the week, campers were given time to process what they’d learned by writing scripts and recording themselves in front of a green screen, posing as journalists reporting on the state of pollen and the climate in the past and future. On the final day of the camp, families were invited to a closing ceremony to watch the finished videos. The “newscasts” were lighthearted, but well-demonstrated the girls’ newfound knowledge.
When asked what they would remember from camp, one of the participants said “learning about science isn’t just sitting down and reading [and] listening, but also being outside and exploring.”
“I learned a lot about pollen, optics, ants, plants and a lot of other cool things!” said another.
Pollen Power! camp, offered this summer for the fourth consecutive year, is funded in part by the National Science Foundation and the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology. The camp is co-organized by plant biologists and GEGC theme members Lisa Ainsworth (USDA ARS) and Andrew Leakey, IGB Core Facilities, and IGB Outreach staff.
Registration for next year’s camp will open early spring 2016. For more information about the camp, or to be added to a mailing list for related announcements, please contact IGB’s Director of Engagement & External Relations Alaina Kanfer at email@example.com.