by Katy Sparrow

March 16, 2013

Girls in Ocean Science (GIOS) is an annual conference held at the Ocean Institute, an ocean education nonprofit organization located in Dana Point, California. Students from all over the West Coast take part in this conference that is organized by and for middle and high school girls. The purpose of the conference is to give the attendees a unique opportunity to learn about a variety of careers in ocean science through a day of close interactions with female ocean scientists. I was invited to be a presenting scientist at the high school conference and lead a Chemical Oceanography lab onboard the Ocean Institute’s research vessel. Thinking back to when I was high school age, I know that it would have been so inspiring to meet and learn from living, breathing female scientists. I believe that events like GIOS are crucial to increasing the likelihood of girls to pursue STEM careers; today, women constitute just 26% of environmental scientists and geoscientists in the United States. 

The most rewarding part of being a mentor at GIOS was getting to be out on the water and do science with the girls. The girls formed small groups that rotated through the different activities onboard, so I was able to meet all the girls and have lots of informal interactions with them throughout the day. Once we sailed out of the harbor, I was just as eager as the girls to grab the railing of the vessel to get a close look at all the dolphins that were bow-riding our vessel and witness an amazing show by a pair of grey whales. For my station, I decided that it would be super cool to lead a dissolved oxygen lab. I showed the girls how we could bring up seawater from a chosen depth using a Niskin bottle and each small group got to use a Winkler titration kit to measure the dissolved oxygen content of the water that they collected. By the time we were heading back to shore, we had measurements from several different depths so that we could draw a crude dissolved oxygen profile together on a whiteboard. I engaged the girls to help me explain what biological and physical processes were responsible for what we observed: a lot of oxygen in the surface water, a minimum in subsurface waters, and a rebound in the deep waters. It was an amazing feeling to know that I had given so many girls an introduction to Chemical Oceanography that they would never forget.

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