Article first appeared in the spring 2012 issue of the Dean’s Discovery Report.

Brianna Winston thinks DNA is cool. Daniella Hamilton likes marine biology. Emma Krusz is considering a career as a pharmacist or a nurse practitioner.

No matter what choice they make, these young budding scientists now have a greater understanding of the connection between science and their career options thanks to the sixth annual “Girls Scouts Science Day” presented by the Women in Science student organization.

Every March, more than 100 Girl Scouts arrive on the MCV Campus to experience a half-day of workshops, lectures and hands-on experiments led by professors from the MCV and Monroe Park campuses. This year they represented 21 troops from around central Virginia and were accompanied by 40 leaders and parent volunteers.

A Girl Scout examines a mock crime scene.

“It’s wonderful that VCU makes these opportunities available,” said Mary-Lynn Krusz, Emma’s mother and troop leader from Tappahannock. “I think science, technology, engineering and mathematics are so important for the girls to be exposed to. These are not traditional female careers and I don’t know of a program like this where they might get this experience. It’s not something they get in the classroom.”

The Scouts, ages 9-12, spent time in small groups where they were exposed to various biochemical and molecular research techniques, robotics, simulation and even a mock crime scene to demonstrate the study of forensic science.

“Forensic science is a great hook to get young people interested in science and math,” said Michelle Peace, Ph.D., interim chair of the Department of Forensic Science in the College of Humanities and Sciences. “Because of that, we’re always really eager to inspire and engage young people at this level. So when we were asked to participate again this year, I said, ‘Oh my heaven’s yes!’”

Women in Science member and event organizer Divya Padmanabha, a graduate student in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, has fond memories of being a Girl Scout herself in India. “As a student troop leader, I developed valuable skills that help me even today. I believe that my decision to enter graduate school was shaped by my experiences as a young girl. I hope that the hands-on experiences in labs and conversations with scientists at VCU will inspire the young girls to take on exciting challenges that science and engineering have to offer. I hope that, like me, some girl will discover herself through the marvels of science!”

A Girl Scout uses Twizzlers, gumdrops and toothpicks to build the double helix structure of DNA.

For Frederica Winston, a parent volunteer with Troop 894 in Hanover County, the experience provided something for everyone. “Every girl had an opportunity to learn something about the various areas of science,” she said. “I was impressed with the variety of activities and the individualized information.”

For Jan F. Chlebowski, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and associate dean for Graduate Education in the medical school, the annual event is a labor of love. Not only for himself, but for his colleagues as well.

“Every year has been great. The people who run the demonstrations and the workshops deserve a lot of credit,” he said. “They come up with demonstrations that are appealing, and they devote a lot of time to the event. We’ve had no trouble getting people to participate. It really speaks well for the whole VCU community.”

Thanks to the Women in Science student organization and the annual “Girl Scouts Science Day,” there’s a new cadre of future female scientists in Central Virginia who can explain the origin of a fingerprint while building DNA structures from Twizzlers, gumdrops and toothpicks.