Project Exploration’s All Girls Expedition is an intensive two-week classroom and field work experience. The expedition begins in Chicago with intensive classroom sessions where girls learn practical geology, biology, evaluation, and field skills. Then the team spends one week working in the field alongside scientists. In past expeditions, the team has traveled to Wyoming, Montana, and Puerto Rico.
11 young, diverse, and curious girls from across the city of Chicago came together during the summer of 2012 for one common goal – to work alongside scientists to explore the complexity of ecosystems in both Chicago and Yellowstone National Park. Though the summer does have to come to an end, I am sure each girl left with a piece of Yellowstone and Project Exploration magic. See below to learn about the coursework in Chicago, unique fieldwork in Yellowstone, and for some personal notes from the girls themselves.
The All Girls Expedition program kicked off as the girls worked in a classroom setting but also explored local habitats of Chicago. On the first day of the program, the girls reflected on how humans have been connected to the land from a historical perspective. Adam Kessel, Outreach Naturalist at Forest Preserve District of Cook County led the girls on an ethno-botany walk in Washington Park. Who knew many of the plants that we call “weeds” had been, and still are, used by Native Americans and other peoples? The girls then compared and contrasted Illinois geology with that of Yellowstone with Professor Dr. D’Arcy Meyer-Dombard of the University of Illinois at Chicago. Assistant Professor Albert Coleman at the University of Chicago continued the geology conversation, and explained how the thermophiles in Yellowstone can help us better understand life in space. How neat! The young environmentalists dipped into water quality with Dr. Akilah Martin from DePaul University and microbiology with Tania Bedrosian from Abbott Laboratories. We are also grateful to have learned about local and Yellowstone wildlife with University of Chicago graduate student Chris Schell, how to scientifically identify plants with Erin Lusk (a recent graduate of DePaul University), and all about archeology with Mike Rizo, Program Specialist at the United States Forest Service-International Programs. The All Girls Expedition Scientist Fellow, Charlie Buxman (a graduate student at the University of Chicago) helped tie the curriculum together during the week in Chicago, but she also played a critical role on the field – emphasizing the importance of the unique ecosystem of Yellowstone.
The experience in Yellowstone was jammed packed from early morning (to see wildlife) to late into the evening (for star gazing). The expedition began as the girls went straight from dropping off luggage to an evening hike of the Mammoth Terraces with a Yellowstone National Park Ranger. The girls were really excited to see the thermal features they had learned about back in Chicago, especially the ever so timely eruption of Old Faithful! They were even able to go knee deep into a river to conduct tests such as pH, phosphate, nitrate, and measure the turbidity of the river alongside female scientists from Montana State University Thermal BiologyInstitute. Halfway through the expedition, the girls were exhausted after two field hikes – one hike deep into the wetlands of Yellowstone and another surveying a possible archeological field site. As the field experience came to an end, the girl’s reviewed their journals and wildlife logs and came up with a wish list of animals they would like to see. Slowly but surely, they checked off pronghorn antelope, a herd of bison, black bears, wolves, and a grizzly bear! On the way back to Chicago, sitting at an airport, the girls wrote about what they enjoyed the most about their experience. Here are a few things the girls had to say:
“What I enjoyed the most is learning things in general. If I hadn’t done this program then I wouldn’t have so much to take back home, and share with family and friends. I now know how much it takes to learn new things with new peoples I will always remember.”
“In this program I most enjoyed the field work. Being in a new environment,with no distractions like family or cell phones helped me focus on asking in as much information and experiences as I could without going into sensory overload.”
“What I enjoyed most from this program is having a lot of friends and seeing the world. Because I thought that I would never be able to do it in the future. “