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Loretto Alum Inspires Women in Science & Engineering Festival

February 07, 2018

Nicole Cobb grew up in El Paso, attending St. Patrick Cathedral School and Loretto Academy. After graduating in 2002, she did her undergraduate studies in Chemistry at Harvard University and then pursued a Master's Degree in Biochemistry and worked in a virology lab at Stanford. It was through her job as a teaching assistant working with Stanford undergraduate students, and the time she spent volunteering with middle school students through a community program, that she fell in love with teaching and subsequently received a Master's Degree in Education at the Stanford School of Education. Nicole taught in California as well as at El Paso Community College and is in her second year at Loretto. 

The WiSE (Women in Science & Engineering) Festival was a project that Ms. Cobb undertook with three of her science classes this year. Instead of a traditional science fair, the students wanted to try something different that would be both educational and hands-on to engage their peers and school community in science. They decided to create a different format that would also celebrate women in science, and the WiSE Festival was born. 

WiSE participants wrote research papers on topics that were relevant to the curriculum and sparked their interest. The students then had to decide how to pursue topics that included addiction, sedentary lifestyles, the impact of meat on the world, molecular gastronomy, and composting. Some employed a TED-like talk, others created interactive booths for their peers or for elementary students, and others decided to do the traditional science fair project. They also developed their concept, created a logo, and found sponsors for the event. 

The first day of the Festival included two kick-off assemblies where selected students shared their TED-like talks with the school community. One WiSE assembly was geared toward middle school students, and the other was for the high school student body. It opened with a look at the gender gap among Nobel Prize winners and the emphasis on encouraging young women to pursue studies in science. Since the first Prize was awarded in 1901, organizations have received the Nobel Prize 26 times, women have won it 49 times, and men 825 times. Ms. Cobb then asked, "What does science look like?" and a student dressed in a white lab coat and wild Einstein hair bounded onto the stage. While the audience full of Loretto women roared with laughter, the presentation shifted to one slide after another showing Loretto ladies participating in STEM programs like Robotics with Ms. Cobb stating proudly, "This is what science looks like at Loretto" to great cheers from the enthusiastic crowd.

Over the next two days, the other students hosted the elementary, middle and high school students at a wide array of science-related booths in the Hilton-Young Hall (gymnasium). Elementary and middle school students were given "tours" during the Festival where guides led them to the various booths and the students hosting the booths facilitated science demonstrations and explained the science behind the experiments.

One of Nicole's goals as a science teacher is to spark curiosity and celebrate that spirit of inquiry. This Festival allowed for students to see lots of exciting and fun science in a short period of time and really enjoy it. She also wants students to see the real world relevance of science and develop scientific literacy. "Science is all around them and I want them to love it and not be scared of it."  This Festival allowed students to pursue their interests and passions in science and share that through educating others.

The WiSE Festival was sponsored by the Chiu Family, Deander Family, Moreno Family and the El Paso Orthopaedic Group. The goal for the Festival in the future is to see it grow to include other members of the El Paso community. 


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