It would have been easy — maybe too easy — to assume that the group of young ladies meandering through the mulch in the small park outside of Memorial Field on Tuesday were admiring the bed of pretty pink flowers.
As if they had time for that.
The 18 junior scientists with Discovery Space’s STEAM-tacular camp for girls had observations to make — not regarding the comparatively dull rose-colored petals that festooned the park’s collection of green life, but about the variety of insect species that call them home.
One young girl was intently studying an insect colloquially referred to as “the assassin bug.”
“I see its mouth. It’s creepy,” she said.
It was an observation elegant in both its accuracy and brevity.
With STEAM-tacular, Discovery Space is trying to expose girls age 6 to 12 to the sciences, encompassing subjects as diverse as hydrology, quantitative psychology and spatial reasoning.
Camp director Kelly Harrington said the importance of STEAM-tacular became evident earlier this summer, when Dinosaur Discovery camp left young boys hoping to learn more about velociraptors and meet the girl of their dreams severely disappointed.
Not one girl registered for the camp.
“A lot of the time women aren’t as encouraged to pursue science as much as men,” Harrington said.
Tuesday’s lesson in entomology presented campers with two examples of women working in the sciences, Penn State graduate students Brittany Dodson and Maridel Fredericksen.
The entomologists provided a sharp counterpoint to how camper Sarah Ross said people typically picture scientists.
“When people think about scientists they think about boys and guys with poofy hair,” Sarah said.
Dodson — hair decidedly unpoofy — displayed a series of insects ranging from common mosquitoes to a slightly more exotic tarantula named Coconut. The arrival of each plastic container was greeted with a barrage of queries, question marks flying fast and furious in every direction.
Over at another table, Fredericksen walked her group through the bizarre lifecycle of the zombie ant before inviting them to view one under the lens of a microscope.
Fredericksen enjoyed sharing her work with the campers.
“Just to be able to share your excitement with the kids, it rejuvenates us,” she said.