Vail Daily column: Connect girls with science to solve world’s problems | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Connect girls with science to solve world’s problems

Kim Langmaid

When I was in fourth grade, I wrote an essay on what I wanted to be when I grew up. The year was 1975. Six years earlier, astronauts had made the first landing on the moon. Three years earlier, the crew of Apollo 17 took the iconic photo of earth from space. And each evening at home, I couldn't wait to watch the next episode of Star Trek to find out where Captain Kirk, Spock and the others on Starship Enterprise would land for their next adventure. Space discovery was one of the most exciting things in the world to me. In that essay, I wrote about wanting to be an astronaut when I grew up. I wanted to explore new worlds and go where no woman or man had gone before. I wanted to look out the window of a spaceship and see the beautiful blue earth from space.

With that adventurous dream of space discovery tucked away in the back of my brain, it was the natural wonders closer to my mountain home that eventually helped shape my future education, career, and sense of purpose. My childhood backyard was the forests, meadows, streams and beaver ponds along Beaver Dam Road in Vail.

Awakening a sense of Wonder

The desire to become an astronaut shifted as I discovered an even greater passion for learning biology and wanting to make a difference on planet Earth. I earned degrees in biology and environmental studies and started my career as a naturalist and outdoor science instructor. As a teacher, I observed the magic of awakening a sense of wonder and curiosity in others. In fact, there is a plethora of research that shows experiential learning of science education boosts student achievement and improves environmental, social and economic vitality.

Whether it’s becoming an astronaut, a biologist, a doctor, an engineer or a science teacher, what the world needs now are more girls and women who connect their vision, passion and creativity with science and ingenuity. The demand for a skilled STEM workforce is growing rapidly, and today’s women and girls can become leaders in this quickly growing and well-paid sector.

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Walking Mountains Science Center is Born

In 1997, I started the natural science educational organization that is known today as Walking Mountains Science Center, located in Avon. My goal was to partner with schools to ensure that all children in the Eagle Valley would have the same opportunity to learn science outdoors, and participate in authentic hands-on learning opportunities that spark curiosity and creativity.

Girls in Science

Throughout the past 17 years, I've seen how important hands-on science learning opportunities are for girls in particular. Some young women have come back years later, after participating in a program, and told me their experience led them to earn a college degree in environmental science. One teacher involved with Walking Mountains' popular Girls in Science program said, "I have seen the girls grow in confidence. They are eager to share what they've learned with others, they seem to take ownership of their class and show growth and leadership among their classmates." This is why I am so excited about the current Colorado focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education and the work of The Women's Foundation of Colorado.

STEM Learning Opportunity

With support from The Women's Foundation of Colorado and its STEM Initiative, Walking Mountains provides STEM learning opportunities to girls throughout the Eagle Valley. Girls in Science programs are now available for girls in all of the elementary schools within Eagle County Schools. In addition there is a growing STEM Leadership Academy at middle schools, and Walking Mountains is partnering with Eagle County Schools to ensure that all K-8 students will participate in hands-on field science education each year of their education. High school students are also involved as paid summer interns collecting scientific data that can be used by the U.S. Forest Service to help make future land management decisions.

A Better World

I believe there is something in each of us that wants to make the world a better place. Matching that sense of purpose with natural science is the most exciting place to be these days. I call this "STEM with purpose." Whether it's becoming an astronaut, a biologist, a doctor, an engineer or a science teacher, what the world needs now are more girls and women who connect their vision, passion and creativity with science and ingenuity. The demand for a skilled STEM workforce is growing rapidly, and today's women and girls can become leaders in this quickly growing and well-paid sector. All kinds of beautiful scientific creations are needed to build the kind of sustainable, equitable and flourishing world we all want to be a part of and call home.

Kim Langmaid is the founder, vice president and director of sustainability and stewardship programs at Walking Mountains Science Center. She can be reached at kiml@walkingmountains.org.

If you go …

Who: The Women’s Foundation of Colorado – Vail Valley Regional Committee

What: Annual Luncheon & Raffle with Keynote Speaker NASA Astronaut Anna. L. Fisher

When: Aug. 12, 11 a.m.-1:45 p.m. New this year: WFCO Cafe coffee bar and bucket raffle from 11 a.m.-12 p.m.

Where: Vail Marriott Mountain Resort, Vail.

For ticket purchase or community partnerships, visit http://www.wfco.org/vailluncheon