This past summer Wesleyan’s quiet campus was the backdrop for a cold case murder investigation. More than forty years ago, an alleged double homicide was committed in Dice R. Anderson Cabin, but without enough evidence, the case went cold. In July, however, stained carpet and furniture were discovered in the Arboretum. To determine if the evidence was sufficient to re-open the case, Wesleyan’s own crime scene investigators – twenty five middle school girls from the Spectacles math and science camp – were given the task of determining whether or not the stains were blood. “We picked blood off the carpet and furniture in the cabin,” Adreanna Chester, a local camper, excitedly explained. “Then we had to test the blood to see whose it was to try and solve the murders.”
The mock crime scene was staged by Dr. Holly Boettger-Tong, director for the Center for Women in Science and Technology at Wesleyan, and other Spectacles’ faculty members. It was just one of the many engaging activities that Adreanna and her fellow campers experienced while attending Spectacles, a week-long residential math and science camp sponsored by Wesleyan for middle school girls.
For the past twenty-one years, Spectacles has offered middle school girls from all over the world the exciting opportunity to immerse themselves in real life math and science experiments. Spectacles is an academic program of the prestigious Duke University Talent Identification Program (TIP) – an organization dedicated to serving academically – gifted youth. Each summer, Spectacles attracts some of the brightest middle school girls to Wesleyan’s campus to explore the possibilities of becoming the world’s next generation of scientists and mathematicians.
Using the College’s state-of-the-art science labs and electronic classrooms, and drawing on the extensive expertise of Wesleyan’s faculty from the College’s Division of Science and Mathematics, Spectacles offers a fun but challenging real-college experience.
According to the report, Women in STEM: A Gender Gap Innovation, published in August of 2011 by the U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration (ESA), women fill nearly half of all jobs in the U.S. economy, but they hold less than twenty-five percent of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) jobs. This has been the case throughout the past decade. Why the gender gap? The report and Dr. Boettger-Tong cite several possible factors including a lack of female role models, gender stereotyping, and less family-friendly flexibility in the STEM fields. Whatever the reasons, Spectacles is offering middle school girls exposure, positive experiences, and intentional interactions with powerful women role models who are employed in STEM professions. Wesleyan is showing girls that the opportunity is there and encouraging them to pursue high-paying and challenging STEM related professions.
“We make science and math cool,” said Dr. Boettger-Tong. “We want them to see the creativity and purpose in science and math – something that’s exciting, fun, and accessible – something they can take with them.”
Jeremy Magruder is a former Spectacles camper who is now pursuing her PhD in engineering at the University of Florida (UF). She participated in the camp ten years ago while in seventh grade and claims Spectacles made a lasting impact on her life. After returning to her hometown of Orlando, Florida, she attended an engineering, science and technology magnet high school where she excelled in the classroom.
“It was during Spectacles that I gained the desire to obtain a PhD in engineering,” said Jeremy. “We went on a field trip to Oak Ridge National Laboratory and had the opportunity to go inside a nuclear reactor. That moment changed my life.” Jeremy has been serving as a role model for students since she was in high school and still works as a mentor with high school students through the UF Chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers Pre-College Initiative. “I’m a huge supporter of educating students about the applications of math and science at a young age,” said Jeremy. “I think middle school is a great time because students understand the basic concepts that exist in interesting STEM projects.”
As for Adreanna, now an eighth grader at Macon’s St. Peter Claver school, the crime scene in the cabin inspired her interest in pursuing a career in forensics, and she is already researching colleges. One of her fellow campers came all the way from Saudi Arabia and would like to return to Spectacles to learn even more about chemistry and biology. She is encouraging Adreanna to pursue her dream too. “A strong community of women invested in math and science serve as powerful role models for these young girls,” said Dr. Boettger-Tong. “We hope to show the girls they can become the women scientists and mathematicians of tomorrow and that their participation is necessary for the continued growth and diversity of these fields.”