High school women contribute to forest hydrology research

For two high schoolers, Juma and Ava, their summer internship landed them in the Department of Forest Resources’ hydrology lab. More than a paid experience, their placement in the lab was part of the YWCA Minneapolis’ Girls Inc. Eureka! Program. Eureka! is a five-year, summer and school year STEM program that engages and empowers girls to see themselves as future leaders, learners and creators of change. In their third year in the program, participants explore STEM fields through internship opportunities during the summer at the U and other organizations across the Twin Cities. In the second year of partnership between Eureka! and the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, Assistant Professor Diana Karwan volunteered to host two young women as interns in her lab. “I saw hosting interns as a really interesting and valuable way to work with high school girls interested in STEM,” said Karwan.

When asked to describe in their own words what they were doing in the lab, the ladies summed it up as “filtering, filtering, filtering!” Together, Ava and Juma filtered over one hundred liters of stream water samples, collected from northern Minnesota as part of Karwan’s project Hydrologic Effects of Contemporary Forest Practices in Minnesota. They helped measure the total amount of suspended sediment in the samples and did initial preparation work for analysis of dissolved organic carbon. They also helped one of Karwan’s graduate students collect precipitation samples from the weather station in the fields just north of the St. Paul campus. Their internship culminated with a visit to one of Karwan’s research sites near Hibbing, MN. Eureka! program interns, Ava and Juma

Working in the hydrology lab gave the young women a taste for both STEM research and the U of M. “You can accomplish anything at the University of Minnesota because there’s such a wide range of degrees that you can get here,” said Juma. Ava commented on how “relaxing” the St. Paul campus felt. Before starting lab work, Juma and Ava watched a video lecture that Karwan and post-doc Lucy Rose produced for their hydrology class. “It was interesting hearing what the college students are learning,” said Juma. Ava observed about research that “it’s a lot of work to get data! The most challenging part is when something goes wrong. We have to go through the procedure to figure out what goes wrong.”

Both women are sophomores but are already looking ahead to careers in STEM. “It sounded like an amazing opportunity, and I wanted to start working toward my future” said Ava about hearing Eureka! representatives talk at her school. “I want to get a master’s degree and a Ph.D., so an experience like this can help me when I’m older,” said Juma. Her sister, who works for Girls Inc., encouraged Juma to apply to Eureka! where she’d not only learn about STEM careers, but get to know other women of color in the sciences.

Juma and Ava both have admirable aspirations for their futures. Ava explained, “I want to see that I’m doing something. I want to help make discoveries that will change people’s lives or help people.” Juma shared a similar goal, “I want a career where I like what I’m doing and hopefully help someone with my work. I want to be able to move, explore and talk to people.”