Skip to main content



Girls In Science at Fontbonne University

By Elizabeth Hise Brennan | Tableaux, Summer/Fall 2017

It is a bit of an understatement to say that Dr. Kelly Lane-deGraaf likes science. As a disease ecologist specializing in genetics and parasite transmission, this assistant professor of biology loves science. And she wants young women to love it too.

Two years ago, Lane-deGraaf set out to create a space for middle school-aged girls to engage in science and to see women scientists in action. Her Girls-In-Science Summer Science Research Experience, held throughout two weeks on Fontbonne’s campus, began in 2015 with just five girls and no funding. This year, she was able to host 24 — and pay three female undergraduates as assistants — with the help of a $14,000 grant from Monsanto Fund and a donation from the Wells Fargo Foundation.

“There’s a disparity in the number of women interested in science as young people and the number that actually go and do science,” she explained.

“There’s also a disparity in how we teach science and how we do science. We teach science as a body of facts, when in reality, we don’t know anything! Failing and repetition — that’s how science is done.”

Girls lose interest in science and math around middle school, a fact thought to be influenced by a number of factors, including a lack of visible female representation in STEM fields, as well as gender bias in educational settings and later, in the workplace.

These factors are precisely what Lane-deGraaf seeks to address. The research experience hosts young women in seventh, eighth and ninth grades — the sweet spot where they might easily be discouraged from digging in and studying science and math.

Instead, she wants to provide encouragement, role models and realistic experiences that show girls how science is really done … and that they are capable of doing it.

Dr. Kelly Lane-deGraaf works with a young scientist
Dr. Kelly Lane-deGraaf works with a young scientist.

Role Models
Throughout the two-week experience, Lane-deGraaf facilitated opportunities that explored population genetics, animal behavior, microbiology and parasitology. Her young scientists set up animal behavior experiments throughout Fontbonne’s campus, recorded and analyzed data, troubleshot experiments and used professional software to track their research.

They were assisted by women with a passion for learning. Olivia Hollander graduated from Fontbonne in May with a bachelor’s degree in biology for secondary education. This fall, she will teach biology and earth and space science in the Wentzville School District in St. Louis County. Maddie Cooksey, a senior biology major, is working as one of two Monsanto Fund scholars, reading and scoring grant applications. She plans to work her way toward a Ph.D. at Washington University beginning next year. And Jaylah Jones is a junior history major who has spent a considerable amount of time in the biological and physical studies department as a work study student.

“I had started doing research for Dr. Lane-deGraaf in January, and I asked her if there were any opportunities she knew of for me to get some experience outside of school in research and science in general,” Cooksey said. “She told me about her camp and the Monsanto opportunity at the same time. Hearing about the camp made me very excited because I know I would have loved it when I was younger.”

Although Jones, the oldest of seven siblings, doesn’t intend to major in a science field, she loves kids and wants to encourage young girls to pursue their passion. And she appreciates Lane-deGraaf’s focus on the inclusivity of young women of color, another demographic lacking in STEM fields.

“Here at Fontbonne, there is a lot of talk about diversity,” Jones said. “Even the science department has gotten in on that. The Girls-In-Science Program really reaches out to make sure that all girls are involved.”

Getting Their Hands Dirty
Each morning, Jones, Hollander and Cooksey took teams of girls outside on campus, where they assessed the animal behavior experiments they set out the night before. Some tested the efficacy of bug spray to ward off insects, while others determined whether certain scents attract or repel animals from food.

Each day, the girls observed, weighed and measured, then prepped for the next day’s experiments. In between, they tested animal feces for parasites, explored the diversity of bacteria, and learned the ins and outs of working in a lab.

Even repetitive tasks were part of the process.

“I want them to learn the value of a notebook, data collection and writing everything down,” said Lane-deGraaf. “This experience helps them learn the basic techniques of what I use every day. I want them to begin to see science as a way to approach their world.”

All of the tasks the girls completed were related to Lane-deGraaf’s own areas of expertise, and the research they completed wasn’t simply busy work — they were contributing to viable scientific study.

“I want them all to become scientists,” Lane-deGraaf said. “But most importantly, I want them to know that science is accessible, and they can do it.”

Learn more about studying biological and physical science at Fontbonne.



We are using cookies to give you the best experience. You can find out more about which cookies we are using or switch them off in privacy settings.
AcceptPrivacy Settings


  • GDPR Privacy Policy
  • Google Analytics

GDPR Privacy Policy

Privacy Policy

Overall Policy

Thank you for visiting our website. We’re pleased to share our policy regarding the use of information received here. Privacy is a matter of concern to us. We are committed to protecting your privacy and the security of the information that you may provide to us.

Personal Information

We do not track individual users. Your email address or other personal information is not collected unless you provide it on a form, survey or application. We will not sell or otherwise make available any personally identifiable information to any organization not directly affiliated with us. We will comply with legitimate government or legal requests as necessary to protect our organization or to comply with laws.

Traffic Analysis

We analyze traffic to this site. We collect statistical data on an aggregated basis through Google Analytics. For example, we collect information about the domain names of servers that bring visitors to our site. We count the number of visitors and keep track of where they go on our site. Such information allows us to find out what areas users visit most frequently and what services they access the most, which enables us to create a better overall user experience. To gather such data, we use cookie technology, which collects data in aggregate form, not by individual user.


As referenced above, we use cookie technology for traffic analysis. Cookies are small pieces of information stored by your browser on your computer’s hard drive. The cookies placed by our server do not gather personal information about you, do not provide any way for us to contact you and do not gather information about your computer. The cookies simply allow us to enhance our site by letting us know what sections are visited most often. The use of cookies is common on the Internet, and our use of them is similar to that of other reputable online organizations.

Links To Other Sites

Our site contains links to other sites and Internet resources. We are not responsible for the privacy practices or the content of these third-party websites and Internet resources.

Updates To Privacy Policy

We may update the privacy policy periodically, and we encourage visitors to review them on a regular basis.

Last revised: June 2015

Google Analytics