SARASOTA, Fla. (June 26, 2019) – The University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee and UnidosNow will present a special two-day science program next month for 25 girls at the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Sarasota.
The program is set for Monday, July 15, and Friday, July 19, and involves third-, fourth- and fifth-grade girls from schools in Sarasota and Manatee counties. The sessions are designed to inspire the girls to pursue careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
The girls will explore microplastics in the environment, meet a marine biologist and take samples from a beach to examine under microscopes at USFSM’s teaching laboratories at Mote. They’ll also learn about the importance of estuaries and visit the Mote aquarium and Save Our Seabirds, a wildlife rehabilitation program.
“This is something we’ve done the past few years in partnership with USFSM to inspire girls and teach them about careers in science, technology and engineering,” said Lisbeth Oscuvilca Rodriguez, education director for UnidosNow’s Future Leaders Academy for Girls. “I think they’ll really have fun, and they’ll learn a lot.”
Founded in 2010, UnidosNow’s mission is to elevate the quality of life of the Hispanic/Latino community in Sarasota and Manatee counties through education, integration and civic engagement. Its education initiatives seek to empower students, with support from parents, to successfully pursue higher education.
UnidosNow and USF Sarasota-Manatee have partnered on activities for several years, including college preparatory fairs, financial aid workshops and other events designed to help Hispanic/Latino students succeed in school and enter college.
The STEM workshops will be led by USFSM Lab Specialists Victoria Ramirez and Chelce Shire and involve USFSM student volunteers majoring in biology.
Working in groups, the girls will collect sand from 2-foot by 2-foot areas at a beach on City Island, pass the sand through sieves to pick out particles and then examine the particles under microscopes.
Organizers are hoping the girls learn to identify differences between naturally occurring particles and microplastics, which wash up on beaches, pollute oceans and kill marine life. The girls will also undergo “a lunch box analysis” to learn how long their lunch trash takes to degrade in landfills and what might happen if that trash reaches coastal waters.
“What we want to do is show them what can be found in the sand on our beaches and what they can do in their everyday lives to make small changes to reduce their impact on the environment,” Ramirez said. “Not only are we exposing them to lessons about the environment, but we’re also showing them what they can do to better protect the environment.”
One of those lessons, she said, will focus on eliminating single-use plastics like sandwich baggies in favor of reusable storage containers. Having one child pack sandwiches in a reusable container can remove 180 baggies from the waste stream annually, said Ramirez. In addition, using the containers can curb the risk that some baggies end up in the ocean accidentally, impacting marine life.
Ramirez said she’s looking forward to meeting the girls and interacting with them.
“That’s the best part of my job and it’s something we are all really passionate about here at USFSM,” she said. “It’s nice to reach out to younger kids, and hopefully this will spark an interest in STEM fields.”
As part of the program, the girls will meet with marine biologist Breanna DeGroot of Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, walk through a mangrove tunnel at Ken Thompson Park on City Island and learn the role of estuaries in coastal habitats as shoreline stabilizers and nurseries for marine life.
During their visit to Save Our Seabirds, they’ll observe birds undergoing rehabilitation after becoming tangled in fishing line and ingesting microplastics. Finally, they’ll tour the Mote Marine Aquarium. Both organizations donated tickets to allow the children to visit their facilities. In addition, Save Our Seabirds is offering a behind-the-scenes tour.
“Events like this are important to children at this age,” Oscuvilca Rodriguez said. “This event will give them an opportunity to understand who they are and possibly help them to discover a passion to pursue a STEM career. Sometimes, all it takes is an event like this to inspire a young mind.”
To learn more about UnidosNow, visit unidosnow.org.
For more about degree programs at USF Sarasota-Manatee, including biology, visit usfsm.edu.