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Women in Wildlife inspires young girls to consider careers in wildlife

Oct. 16, 2013

Women in Wildlife 2013: (L-R) Clarissa Starbuck, Kathryn Woman, Julianna Jenkins, Cara Joos

Women in Wildlife 2013: (L-R) Clarissa Starbuck, Kathryn Womack, Julianna Jenkins, Cara Joos

Nine Girl Scout troops from Columbia spent a day catching insects and learning about careers in wildlife at a Women in Wildlife event held at the Columbia Audubon Society’s Wild Haven Nature Area on July 20, 2013.

Women in Wildlife is a program designed to expose young girls to careers in wildlife and wildlife conservation. Held annually since 2008, the event is organized by female graduate students from the University of Missouri in coordination with the central region of Girl Scouts of the Missouri Heartland and the Columbia Chapter of the Audubon Society.

Girls at the event learned about how scientists use radio telemetry and GPS to track birds, identified insects and flowers using field guides, caught insects in nets, and got the chance to see a live bat and bird close up.

Although every part of the event involved learning about nature, the main point of the event was “to let girls see that women go out and get dirty and work outside with wildlife,” said Cara Joos (PhD, ’13), who founded the program while a graduate student in the Division of Biological Sciences and who helped organize this year’s event.

“It used to be that girls didn’t really know wildlife jobs existed, but now they know they exist but see it as a man’s job because they only see men doing it. They don’t have many female role models. We want girls to see women working with wildlife in the field,” said Joos, who studies the habitat characteristics that influence the population success of the neotropical migrant songbird the Bell’s Vireo.

Joos was joined at the event by three fellow graduate students: Julianna Jenkins, who studies forest neotropical migrant birds, and Clarissa Starbuck (B.S., ’10; M.S., ’13) and Kathryn Womack, both of who study bat populations in the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.

Providing opportunities for girls to interact with women like Joos and her colleagues is of great interest to the Girl Scouts, said Christine Wehner, one of the troop leaders at the event. “Recently, Girl Scouts launched a program called ‘To Get Her There,’ which works to show girls that they are equal to boys, that they can do whatever boys do, and to be leaders in all fields, especially in science, technology, education, and math. So a program like this is just fantastic. It gives girls exposure and the opportunity to think more broadly about what they can potentially do.”

Kimberly Matthews, who was in attendance with her daughter, liked that the program gives the girls an appreciation for nature. “Sometimes, we take nature for granted. Programs like this give us the opportunity to talk about nature and how you can’t get it back when you destroy it. I think that’s important.”

The event definitely piqued the interest of the girls – who eagerly asked questions, tried out the equipment, peered at pond water with magnifying glasses, and ran around with nets catching insects in the fields.

Malinda from Troop 70571 had a hard time pinning down what she liked best. “I liked when I got to find the bird using the radio tracker. I also liked the bat. I liked touching the turtle too. That was fun.”

Wild Haven Nature Area has been a great location for the Women in Wildlife program. Located along Hinkson Creek just northeast of Columbia, Wild Haven includes a wide diversity of habitats in over 100 acres, including woodlands, prairies, wetlands, pond and streams.

John Besser, who oversees Wild Haven for the Columbia Chapter of the Audubon Society, said the program benefits the Chapter’s outreach and education goals by reaching out to the public beyond the membership and especially to young people. “Giving kids the opportunity to get outside and have a hands-on experience with wildlife is a memorable part of the program, but having these graduate students who are doing amazing stuff as role models, well, that’s got to make an impression on these girls. I’m hoping that the awareness these girls gain through Women in Wildlife will translate into a lifelong interest in nature.”

Cara holds an indigo bunting in her hand

Cara Joos gives Scouts a chance to see up close an indigo bunting she captured in a mist net and talked to them about how scientists use bird banding to study bird ecology and movement.

image shows Womack and two Scouts catching insects in net

Kathryn Womack (left) captures insects with Scouts and shows them how to use a field guide to identify what they caught.

Clarissa Womack shows Scouts a live bat and talks to them about what to do (and not to do) when you find a bat.

Clarissa Womack shows Scouts a live bat and talks to them about what to do (and not to do) when you find a bat.

Written by: Melody Kroll

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Graduate Studies, Science Outreach