Parks Grow Girls’ Interest in Science

Parks Grow Girls’ Interest in Science, Restoration Ecology

From Park E-ventures, January 2016

By Michael Hsu

In November, four staff members from across the parks showed a group of 3rd, 4th and 5th grade girls how women play an important role in restoration ecology, vegetation management, and heavy-duty field work.

“Fields like these—in many cultures—are still seen as male-oriented, but that’s not actually the case,” says Yakuta Poonawalla, the Parks Conservancy’s community program manager who was one of the four representatives. “Sharing and showing that fact is something that’s close to my heart.”

Parks Grow Girls’ Interest in Science

To memorably illustrate their point, the foursome—Yakuta; Julia Fox, a Park Stewardship intern with the Conservancy, Dominique Sevi, a Conservancy restoration technician; and Dr. Alison Forrestel, a supervisory vegetation ecologist with the National Park Service—brought their full “field” gear.

Equipped with hand picks and loppers and dressed in their Carhartt workwear (or ranger uniform), the foursome made a deep impression on the 14 youngsters at a program in Oakland for Scientific Adventures for Girls (SAFG).

“We thought it would be meaningful to show them what a woman would look like in that kind of a capacity,” Julia explains. “Even giving them that image can make a difference—so they could picture it.”

SAFG—a nonprofit that provides after-school and summer STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) experiences for girls—invited the park team to share insights on botany, ecology, and making careers out of “playing in the mud.”

SAFG couldn’t have chosen better spokeswomen for this kind of work. “I’m always impressed that the Conservancy and the agencies that we work with have so many powerful and brilliant women who work in these fields,” Julia observes.

“Sometimes I’m about to pick up a bucket or use a heavy tool, and before I even start, someone will ask ‘Oh, do you need help?’ But then I say, ‘No, I work here every day and this is something that we do!’ So I think it’s important to empower girls to show them that they can do physical work and scientific work like that.”

Although the staff weren’t able to lead an actual restoration activity during the program, they simulated the experience by having the girls “weed out” layered pieces of paper—printed with photos of invasive species—to reveal and give a boost to native plants underneath.

They also brought samples of the real thing—gumplant, coastal strawberry, coyote brush, and yerba buena—and discussed animals that benefit from restored ecosystems. Ranger Alison, in particular, was impressed at the depth of the participants’ knowledge—and the quality of their scientific observations and questions.

The girls were excited to bring home the plant samples to show their families and share what they had learned. And at least one participant found some role models who loved the mud as much as they do. In fact, during the program, she gave Yakuta an impromptu poem:

Mud, by Sophiella
O Mud, Oh Mud,
Fabulus mud.
Raina likes it,
I like it,
and Irina likes it.
We all love Mud!

Our staff can’t wait to bring the girls to the parks to get their hands dirty—during a real stewardship program.


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