Photo: Margaret McKinney/Highlands University
Highlands chemistry professor Jiao Chen, second from left, shows Lea Ortiz how to conduct a “magic sand” chemistry experiment while Isabella Lucero and Alanna Pino-Lucero observe. The three Las Vegas area 5th graders participated in AAUW’s Girls Can at Highlands.

Las Vegas, N.M. – Fifth grade girls from Las Vegas, New Mexico gained hands-on career knowledge from Highlands University science faculty and community members at an AAUW Girls Can program May 19 at the university.

The Las Vegas Chapter of the American Association of University Women joined forces with Highlands to present Girls Can, which aims to generate early interest in science, technology, engineering and math, collectively known as STEM, and other careers.

“We’re interested in expanding girls’ horizons in STEM as well other careers that women haven’t traditionally considered such as law enforcement and banking leadership,” said Carol Linder, Highlands interim associate vice president for academic affairs and longtime AAUW member. “What’s unique about Girls Can this year is that the girls get to experience a day at college.”

While Highlands has participated in Girls Can for 10 years, this is the first year all the workshops were taught on campus. More than 100 girls attended.

Highlands chemistry professor Jiao Chen taught a workshop with several chemistry experiments for Girls Can.

“I want the girls to see that science is cool, and that they can use science knowledge to explain a lot of phenomena in their daily life,” Chen said. “Many of my students at Highlands and previous universities chose to major in science because they had unforgettable science activities when they were young.”

Chen said programs like AAUW’s Girls Can inspire and motivate young girls to pursue science.

Chen showed the girls how to make soap bubbles using dry ice, a solid carbon dioxide, and how to inflate a balloon using dry ice. The girls also explored a compound of “magic sand” coated with a chemical compound that prevents it from getting wet when water is poured upon it.

Jadalin Quintana, an 11-year-old from Paul D. Henry Elementary in Las Vegas, participated in Girls Can and Chen’s workshop.

“It’s exciting to be at Highlands because I want to go here someday,” Quintana said. “I like trying the different kind of chemical experiments to see what will happen. I’m interested in being a dentist or a pharmacist.”

Three Las Vegas AAUW members co-directed Girls Can at Highlands including Karyl Lyne, Carla Romero, a Highlands business faculty member, and Cheryl Zebrowski, a librarian at the university’s Donnelly Library.

“With Girls Can, we encourage girls to believe that anything is possible in their careers,” Romero said. “We chose women to present the workshops and they are all wonderful role models.”

Other presenters included Highlands biology professor Miki Ii and Las Vegas women such as a chiropractor, dentist, Chinese medicine doctor, pharmacist, credit union branch manager, and police lieutenant, among others.