If there’s one thing that the academic program of St. John’s College imparts to students and tutors alike, it is the capacity to tackle any problem, passion, or profession. Aviva Crichton (SF15) had the opportunity recently to help bring that message to about 150 middle-school girls participating in a conference devoted to nurturing their interest in the sciences, broadly defined.
It all started in August when Crichton was approached by GUTS y Girls program manager Kathryn Ugoretz (SFGI14) to work on an Expanding Your Horizon conference that would introduce 5th-to-8th grade girls to New Mexico women pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and computing (known as STEM-C). Asked to accept a student internship, Crichton had only one obvious answer: “yes.”
So Crichton, already juggling a busy summer schedule, began spending time at the Santa Fe Institute, GUTS y Girls’ institutional home and a research and education center that brings together leading scientists to explore and explicate compelling and complex problems. With GUTS y Girls, Crichton worked in an outreach capacity on all aspects of preparing for this conference. She began with outreach to local schools, including science educators, counselors, and teachers just plain excited about exposing “gutsy” girls to opportunities in science and technology.
In addition to outreach, Crichton helped recruit volunteers, edited presenter bios, compiled supplies, fielded questions from parents, and assisted with other aspects of planning the event. Among the volunteers recruited were fellow Johnnies, who acted as “Group Guides,” each one of whom was assigned to a group of girls during the conference, joined them in workshops, lunch, and other activities. “They were just awesome,” Crichton says, adding that the women from St. John’s served as slightly older role models.
In total, there were 11 presenters, including one high-school student who had participated in GUTS y Girls and in Project GUTS workshops over past years. On the first Saturday in October on the campus of the Santa Fe Community College, the participating girls learned how the women had got their start in careers involving STEM-C, participated in workshops on topics ranging from emergency medicine to computer science and technology, and did hands-on “make and take” projects at booths set up by local STEM-C programs, camps, and employers.
A science-loving kid whose older sister earned a doctorate in research biology, Crichton was struck by the thread connecting this conference and her everyday experience at St. John’s: learning to think. “These girls got the message that you are capable of doing this,” she observes. The conference opened up an avenue, she continues, by encouraging these students to have the courage to consider science and not succumb to stereotypes.
Crichton also felt a strong connection between St. John’s and SFI, where she spent all those hours during the run-up to the conference. Here was a place that also embodied a rigorous, collaborative approach to in-depth thinking that ignored so-called boundaries between disciplines. “These are engaged, curious people,” she says. She especially enjoyed the 3 p.m. tea time – a sort of social hour of the intellectually intrepid, when researchers and staff come together to catch up, share ideas, and raise questions.
“What we do at St. John’s can happen elsewhere,” she concludes with a smile.