PT Student Gets Middle School Girls Excited About Science

Girls_In_Science4Farah Khan, UAB medical student, Melanie Shores, assistant professor in department of human studies and Alison Barnard, doctor of physical therapy student, created the "Girls in Science and Engineering Day" for middle school girls.Math and science always played such a strong role in Alison Barnard life and career. She competed in math tournaments all over the Southeast as a high school student. She earned a bachelor’s degree in earth, atmospheric and planetary science at MIT. Now she’s a second year doctor of physical therapy student at UAB. Because those disciplines had such a huge impact on her, she wanted to give back.


Her dream was to see more girls excel and feel confident in their math and science abilities. She thought about creating a “Girls in Science Day” at UAB that would give local middle school girls a chance to participate and engage themselves in science workshops held by UAB professors and students.

That dream finally became a reality. Barnard and Farah Khan, a UAB medical student and childhood friend, conceptualized and organized the first “Girls in Science and Engineering Day” at UAB on Saturday, May 13. They solicited the help of Melanie Shores, Ph.D., an assistant professor in UAB’s Department of Human Studies in the School of Education, to act as a faculty advisor and contact the science coordinators at all the middle schools in the area.

“Originally we thought maybe 60 students at the most would show,” said Barnard. “We were praying some would come. We shocked we had a lot more than expected.”

Girls_In_Science3Jennifer Christy, assistant professor in UAB Department of Physical Therapy, gets help from two students to demonstrate the vestibular system.More than 70 girls from 18 different middle schools in sixth through eighth grades participated in the free, full-day event. The students learned about neuroscience, biology, medicine, metal casting, the visual cube and water rockets from UAB faculty and students from School of Engineering, School of Education, School of Medicine, Department of Physical Therapy and Department of Biology. The students even acted out a “play” to learn about the sensory/motor systems.

“We wanted to spark science and engineering interest in the minds of these young Birmingham girls,” said Barnard. “It apparently worked because we had girls asking us if we were going to have the event again next year because they wanted to participate again.”

To keep the event free, Barnard and Khan received donated resources from the participating schools. Vulcan Materials and Southern Company donated money that was used toward t-shirts for the girls and food.

Barnard said the plan is to hold this again next year with some added ideas.

“I would like to add math as well as allow the girls to pick which workshops they want to attend,” said Barnard. “We would also like to include groups such as the Society of Women Engineers.”

Barnard will graduate in December 2012 and hopes the legacy of her “Girls in Science and Engineering Day” will continue.

“I would love to stay involved in some capacity,” said Barnard. “I understand several physical therapy faculty members loved the concept and want to help out next year and hopefully carry on this great event.”