Cultivating today’s young women to become tomorrow’s world leaders

CFANS hosted sixteen young women (grades 7-10) to participate in the first Gopher Girls in Agricultural STEM Scholars Program on the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota, August 16-17. The program enlisted researchers and professors from across the agricultural disciplines to engage participants in the wonders of agricultural science. Participants learned about plant genetics and breeding, polymer chemistry, animal science, drones in agriculture, and more.

The program, led by Agronomy and Plant Genetics Assistant Assistant Professor Candice Hirsch, plant science undergraduate student Haleigh Ortmeier-Clarke, and Stakman-Borlaug Center (SBC) for Sustainable Plant Health Outreach Coordinator Mohamed Yakub, was supported by the SBC and the Minnesota Agricultural Education Leadership Council (MAELC).

The two-day experience was split into four sections:

  • Hirsch and her lab taught the girls about maize genetics and plant breeding via data collection on corn genotypes and calculation of heterosis, or hybrid vigor. Graduate student Austin Dobbles in the Applied Plant Sciences program also discussed the use of drones in agricultural data collection.
  • Maria McClintock, Ph.D. candidate with the Center for Sustainable Polymers, engaged students in conducting an experiment measuring carbon dioxide production by inflating balloons with yeast and different sugars. She also engaged the young women in a conversation around what it is like to be a graduate student.

  • Animal Science Major Coordinator and Professor Tony Seykora and Professor Alfredo DiCostanzo led a tour around the livestock area of campus, and for some participants, this was their first exposure to livestock. Before learning about feed rations, the young women held a piglet, experienced the stomach of a cannulated cow, and looked at bovine gut microflora under a microscope.

  • After touring the Gabbert Raptor Center, graduate students in the Applied Plant Sciences led a campus scavenger hunt where students had to find the statues of the steers and Norman Borlaug, and other St. Paul campus landmarks. The final stop of the scavenger hunt was the St. Paul Student Center, where participants enjoyed ice cream made by the Department of Food Science and Nutrition.

As the world changes and new challenges arise, CFANS is working to expand scientific literacy and support the next generation of scientists by preparing them to find solutions to these challenges. It is especially important to engage young women in science, technology, engineering, and math and the intersection of these fields within agricultural science. Within CFANS, faculty, staff, and students are driven to discover new ways to feed, fuel, and clothe the world. The Gopher Girls in Agricultural STEM Scholars Program was a step towards finding new people to find new solutions.