The Denver Museum of Nature and Science (DMNS), in partnership with CBS4 and KCNC-TV, have taken a unique approach in activating the curiosity of science and peeling back the world of opportunities in STEAM fields (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) for young girls. Saturday, March 2, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., the museum will host its fifth annual Girls and Science event which will feature a variety of hands-on experiences in addition to chances to interact with current career mentors who are actively working in those fields.
Amber Menzies has been the building operations manager at DMNS for the last two years and is eager to help young women and girls follow, foster, and grow their curiosity. She believes that an event like this can provide a channel to allow girls to explore their existing interests, and potentially, career paths.
“It’s really about inspiration more so than information,” said Menzies, “it’s not a career fair. What we’re trying to do is get girls excited about opportunities in STEAM; that’s what I’m most excited about.”
Highlighting eight different Science Clubhouses, mentors like Menzies will feature activities and conversations designed to engage children through playful exercises that allow science to be utilized outside of a stereotypical laboratory setting.
“A lot of us have such a clinical view on science,” she said. “We picture people in lab coats in a sterile situation doing very neat and tidy experiments. In my job, I wear a hard hat and steel-toed boots, and while it’s a very different environment, it’s still very much science, technology, engineering, and math, and if you count architecture, then there is art in there, too.”
As Menzies’ primary responsibility at the museum is focused on the physical operation of the building, she has designed her interactive experience to focus on that. In her Clubhouse, she will be breaking out blueprints and materials, asking the girls to work together to help build a model of the museum. There will also be a scavenger hunt which will focus on features of the museum’s structure and architecture, giving the girls an opportunity to see the building in the way that she does.
“The museum connected with 2 million people last year,” she said. “It’s almost a million square feet of facilities, and there’s a ton of stuff that happens behind the scenes that makes for a wonderful visitor experience. If I’m doing that, well then, you don’t know that all of that is happening.”
Menzies started her career in building operations at the University of Denver and found a love in discovering how things work behind-the-scenes. Solving equations like how to keep an ice floor frozen for a hockey match or finagling all that is involved in maintaining an 800,000-gallon swimming pool pique her interests.
“It’s been about the diversity of things I get to learn everyday, for me,” she said. “You never know when you’re in operations what you’re going to be walking into on a given day, what you’re going to be asked to figure out on the fly, and I really enjoy that kind of problem solving.”
A 2018 report from the Nation Science Foundations stated that only 29 percent of science and engineering jobs are held by women. Menzies believes that programs like the DMNS Girls and Science event can provide exposure to the variety of opportunities that lie within these fields and will act as an inspiration for young women to continue to pursue them.
“I think there’s a lot of information that proves that girls do just as well in these fields, and then it falls off in the middle school/high school range, and I don’t know if there’s a good answer as to why that occurs. It is definitely a male dominated industry, but it’s starting to change, which is very exciting.”
Inclusion is one of the pillars that the museum is upheld by, and making sure everyone feels encouraged to attend and participate is of the utmost importance, especially for youth within the LGBTQ and other marginalized communities. It’s that mission that Menzies loves most about working at DMNS, and she mentioned that one of the top picks of staff attire is the Rainbow T-Rex staff T-shirt.
“The museum has a really strong inclusivity statement, and it really lives those values. We reach out to communities specifically to try and get them to engage and show up to these events. We do outreach and interviews with magazines like OUT FRONT to try and reach those communities and make them feel welcome here.
“We encourage men to volunteer and come to support the women in their field and industry. One thing that’s fun to see is the diversity of families that you get who bring their daughters to this event.”
Price of admission to Girls and Science is at no additional cost with the traditional day-pass for visitors, but tickets may be going fast. At an anticipated 8,000 people expected, this event is one of the museum’s most heavily attended of the year, and DMNS is doing a phenomenal job in articulating the notion that science is fun and can be incorporated everywhere, not just in one’s career.
“You don’t know what that connection point is going to be for a girl,” she continued, “and so one of the things that I think is different about this event is that it doesn’t just focus on the professional life. We also try to show ourselves as complete people; everyone’s clubhouse will feature something about their home life or other activities that they like to do, because you never know what is going to draw somebody or make a connection.”
Ultimately, it’s about changing the perception of what it means to “do” science.
“Making soap is chemistry, and I don’t know too many professional soap makers, but I know a bunch of people who do it as a hobby,” Menzies said. “There are lots of ways to continue to explore science; it doesn’t have to be ‘this is what I want to be as a job title.’”