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 CFANS, Assistant Professor Diana Karwan volunteered to host two young women as interns in her lab. “I enjoy working with K-12 students of all levels on environmental and water-related science. I saw hosting interns through the Eureka! program 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.

Working in the hydrology lab gave the young women a taste for both STEM research and CFANS. “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. Prior to working in the lab, she knew about the field of hydrology, but didn’t know how expansive it was in its connections to water chemistry, land use, and wildlife. “There’s a lot to it that I never knew about,” 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 ladies will be entering their sophomore year of high school this fall 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.” 

Are you interested in hosting young women Eureka! interns in your lab next summer? Contact Mohamed Yakub at yakub002@umn.edu for more information.

By Laura Nelson, Department of Forest Resources


 Ava (sitting) and Juma (standing) prepare stream water samples for filtering in the Karwan Hydrology Lab.