By Alana Melanson
Sentinel & Enterprise
LEOMINSTER — As Fitchburg State University student Samantha Glaze-Corcoran poured vinegar into a cup of baking soda Thursday afternoon, eight sets of eyes watched intently, eager to see what would happen.
Shrieks of delight rang out across the room as the resulting sudden burst of foam overflowed from the top of the cup and covered the table below.
They shouted choruses of “Again! Again!” and “Do ours now!” hoping to see the fizzy reaction one more time.
The group of second, third and fourth-grade girls, participating in the Science Club for Girls at the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster, had just received their first lesson in acid-base reactions — and couldn’t get enough of it.
Next door, a group of fifth-and sixth-grade girls, engaged with engineering curriculum, were working together to design structures capable of holding heavy books using only paper and masking tape. Focusing on form and functionality, Pauline Bruun, 9, of Fitchburg, arranged 11 paper cylinders of varying widths in a square shape and fashioned a casing around them. Her structure was strong enough to withstand the weight of all of the 14 large hardcover books in the room — some of them thick textbooks — equaling to about 26 pounds.
Fitchburg State University chemistry professor Aisling O’Connor, partnering with the Cambridge-based nonprofit Science Club for Girls, received a $10,000 grant from the American Association of University Women that brings science programs to local girls in grades 2-7 who are members of the Boys & Girls Club or enrolled in the Cleghorn Neighborhood Center’s after school program.
For four years now, Science Club for Girls has been bringing science, technology, engineering and math after school programming to female Fitchburg students for one day each week for 10 weeks each spring and fall. Female FSU students majoring in science fields act as mentors for the younger girls and teach them the lessons, and engage them in different science experiments and engineering exercises.
“The whole reason we separate the girls out and why we have a club just for girls is we want to provide them with strong female role models so that they understand that the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and math — is for everyone, for boys and girls,” O’Connor said.
“I think what’s really important is the exposure to science,” said Glaze-Corcoran, 22, formerly of Cleveland, Ohio. “If they go home and they remember what pH is, or what an acid or base is isn’t the point. I think it’s just getting comfortable with it.”
Girls, she said, often form the idea that science is “a boy thing.” Glaze-Corcoran almost failed high school chemistry, thinking it was too hard, but she gave it another try in college and now it’s one of her strongest subjects. What she changed, she said, was her mentality.
By working with younger girls, Glaze-Corcoran hopes to create a lasting impression on them that science is fun and accessible, and might influence them to consider pursuing degrees and careers in science.
Some of the girls are already considering.
“I learned about physical and chemical changes, and other things,” said Lynaiah Gorham, 9, of Fitchburg, following the vinegar and baking soda experiment. “And I thought that was cool, because I want to learn about science and I think I want to be a vet.”