University of the Fraser Valley

UFV instructor launches Celebrate STEM program to inspire a love of science for girls

UFV instructor launches Celebrate STEM program to inspire a love of science for girls

UFV sessional instructor Carin Bondar (right) and Celebrate STEM participants meet at the Gathering Place at the UFV Chilliwack campus.

A program run by UFV biology sessional instructor Carin Bondar is introducing grade-school girls to natural science. ‘Celebrate STEM’ is held once per month at the UFV Chilliwack campus at Canada Education Park. Girls from the Chilliwack School District meet at the Gathering Place to talk about the natural world around them.

Every meeting starts with a territorial acknowledgement. Indigenous artist and nature enthusiast Carrielynn Victor spends a few minutes talking to the group about where they are, why it matters, and how our connections to nature and animals become stories that are passed on from generation to generation.

Then, it’s on to the science in a format Bondar describes as “really chill.”

Participants are asked to have a type of plant, animal, or fungus in mind when they arrive. After a primer talk from Bondar about the scientific method – the process of objectively establishing facts through testing and experimentation – the girls break into smaller groups of four or five girls.

UFV students help, guiding the discussion in each group. Each girl gets several minutes discussion about their plant/animal/fungus.

“They talk about the characteristics of it and come up with a question about it that they’d like to look at,” Bondar says.

For example, one girl wanted to learn more about ravens. During the conversation, the girls wondered if a raven would choose to eat person food like a hot dog over natural food like walnuts.

“Then the conversation becomes about how they would test that, and what kind of hypothesis they can come up with” Bondar says. “After that they do free-form artwork to express the ideas they talked about. This girl drew a raven and some walnuts, and some McDonalds fries and depicted how she might investigate what the birds might do.”

From start to finish, Bondar says that example embodies what the program tries to do with collaborative discussion, critical thinking. Each meeting ends with the students presenting her artwork.

“Speaking in front of others can be frightening, but this is always amazing because we have a pact that we’re there to support each other,” Bondar says. “Whoever volunteers to go first usually gets a prize and it always goes great.”

Bondar launched the program on a trial basis last year after getting a ‘Hey Neighbour’ community grant from United Way. Further funding has come from a SIF (Strategic Initiatives) grant, and there’s momentum behind Celebrate STEM. Skwah First Nation and Soowahlie First Nation have recently reached out to Bondar about science education and empowering young women, and she hopes to work with them to craft something that’s mutually rewarding.

“I feel wonderful watching the students and listening to what they have to say, and I want as many girls as possible to experience it,” Bondar says. “I love seeing them arrive with a prepared concept that they feel chuffed about, and I love watching them share that. It’s not like it’s easy for any of them, but I can see their enthusiasm winning over the feeling that they just can’t do it. There are always a couple girls who arrive on their own and the group does a great job welcoming them in. It’s just beautiful energy.

“All of these little gals have so much in them, and I’m so interested in helping them see that they have it.”