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Bonamici eyes chemistry kit for girls

Congresswoman talks about closing gender gap

NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: PETER WONG - U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici talks with Yellow Stone co-founder Marcie Colledge about the benefits of a new chemistry kit geared toward girls at a meeting in Portland Tuesday.When U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici goes back to Washington, D.C., she will display in her Capitol Hill office a chemistry kit designed for girls and assembled in Portland.

Bonamici said the kit, devised by Portland-based Yellow Scope, will reinforce the point she is trying to make as a member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

“One of the things we are talking about in committee on a regular basis is how we get more young people involved, how we develop a workforce to do jobs in science, space and technology — and particularly how we close the gender gap, because those fields are still male-dominated,” Bonamici said.

“Meeting the people at Yellow Scope and seeing the kits designed for girls will help me talk about the great work being done in Oregon to connect young girls with science, give them confidence, and connect them to a creative, hands-on approach to science.”

Bonamici made her comments Tuesday after meeting with Yellow Scope’s officers and examining the contents of its first chemistry kit, which can be obtained at the Science Store at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry and online.

Bonamici sits in the 1st District congressional seat of northwest Oregon, which includes Washington County, home to many of Oregon’s high-technology companies. She is the top Democrat on the environment subcommittee and a member of the research and technology subcommittee.

In addition, she is a co-founder of the STEAM caucus in Congress to promote education in science, math — and the arts.

“The STEAM approach, which incorporates arts and design, is something I have been excited about because we want innovative people and problem-solvers,” she said.

Although women are half the nation’s workforce, they constitute only a quarter of the workers in science and technology.

Yellow Scope was one of the winners in the 2014 Startup PDX Challenge sponsored by the Portland Development Commission.

Co-founders Marcie Colledge and Kelly McCollum have advanced degrees, Colledge a doctorate in neuroscience and McCollum a master’s in public health.

“They need to learn how science is relevant to their world,” Colledge said. Their first kit, which retails for $44, is designed for girls ages 8 to 12. The kit focuses on helping students learn about molecules and molecular motion, chemical reactions and temperature in chemistry.

A second chemistry kit, which is envisioned at half that price, is planned for sale starting next spring. Amy Compton, vice president for marketing, said that kit will be within the price range of more families.

McCollum said Yellow Scope has plans for similar kits in biology and physics.

The chemistry kit is modeled on those assembled by the A.C. Gilbert Co. dating back almost 100 years, although modern kits do not contain the same chemicals.

Bonamici said she agrees with Yong Zhao, a professor of education at the University of Oregon who has criticized a U.S. emphasis on student testing — and a mastery of facts, such as practiced in China — at the expense of stimulating curiosity in students. She says science kits can help with that creative process.

“He talks about letting students find their passion and then pursue it, which is what we should be doing,” she said.