Department of Chemistry and Physics Hosts 5th Annual ‘Celebrating Women of Physical Science’ Outreach Event

girls at science table
The Dept. of Chemistry and Physics hosted the 5th annual Celebrating Women of Physical Science event at Belmont

Belmont University’s Department of Chemistry and Physics hosted the 5th annual Celebrating Women of Physical Science outreach event on Monday, November 8. Organized by the Department of Chemistry and Physics STEM Outreach Committee–Drs. Krista McBride, Davon Ferrara and Rachel Rigsby; lab manager Jeff Gustafson; and Committee Chair and Associate Professor of Chemistry Education Dr. Danielle Garrett — this event not only highlights the past and current contribution of women in STEM, but it also seeks to make the physical sciences relatable and accessible to high school students, exposing them to key equipment, materials and skills needed in science and math classrooms.

“Every year, we work to make this event engaging, informative and fun,” Garrett said. “We were so glad to be able to hold our event live this year, and the feedback has been very positive. Seeing the excitement and interest these students have in science and being a part of helping them explore their passion for learning is the best part of developing and hosting these events.”

This year, more than 40 students from eight area high schools attended the event where they talked with undergraduate research students and participated in lab tours, demonstrations and hands-on lab activities focusing on optics – including forming images with lenses, the wave nature of light with single and double slits, spectroscopy with vapor light sources and polarimetry. The afternoon events were developed and led by Ferrara, Gustafson, McBride and Rigsby. Administrative Assistant Makayla Kadner and Belmont undergraduate students were also on hand to help make this event a success.

Visiting high school students also had the chance to talk with representatives from the Office of Career & Professional Development. Peer Career Advisors Ashley Sawyers and Jamie Emerick shared information focused on career opportunities in sciences and mathematics. Students also had the opportunity to learn about the Belmont undergraduate Women in Science (WIS) student organization.

Davidson Academy high school chemistry teacher Ellie Reynolds shared, “The students I brought had a wonderful time and we learned a lot. Everyone was very welcoming and informative.”

Girl uses tool

The event ended with Dr. Rosario Porras-Aguilar’s keynote address Light from the Macro and Micro Universe. Porras-Aguilar currently serves assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Optical Science at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She is the head of the Active and Reconfigurable Optics Laboratory. Dr. Porras’s research harnesses the optical properties of nanomaterials to obtain quantitative 3D information for biological and industrial applications.

Porras-Aguilar is also committed to fostering environments of inclusion and diversity in STEM and has organized numerous events to encourage and promote the participation of women in STEM areas in Mexico and the involvement of first-generation Latin@ students at UNC Charlotte. Earlier in the day, Porras-Aguilar held a Zoom session hosted by the Teaching Center – Fostering an Inclusive Academic Environment. More than 30 faculty members from across the University joined in for this session.