This week, Deborah Hutchison will speak to girls in the GEMS Program (Girls Excelling in Math & Science) at the South Florida Science Center in Palm Beach - at the invitation of Education Director Carla Duhaney. In advance of the program, I interviewed Carla about her adventures working in a National Park in Jamaica, what led her to the South Florida Science Center, and her passion for science and for fostering an environment in which girls feel free to experiment and learn, to "build and create without limits". 
Christina Holbrook

Gutsy Gals: You and I have talked before, and I know you have an interesting background, including time spent working in a National Park in Jamaica. Can you tell me a little bit about this experience? It sounds very adventurous!

Carla Duhaney: I was always out to save the world with Science, so I studied Environmental Resource Management at Penn State University and spent my summers as a Park Ranger at the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park in California.  I also knew since I was 3 years old that I would join the US Peace Corps and travel to Africa.  When I was accepted into the Peace Corps in 1993, I was delighted, but very surprised to discover that I was headed to the tropical island of Jamaica. 

While in Jamaica I was assigned to the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, the largest terrestrial Park in Jamaica with many areas of thick tropical rain forest.  I traveled into the small villages on the outskirts of the Park to deliver educational programs and organized community meetings to discuss some of the environmental problems in the boundary areas of the Park.  When my two years of service was finished, I was just beginning, so I jumped on a job opening at the park as Education Director.  In the 10 years I spent with the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, I established the first Environmental Education Program for the Park, participated in many search and rescues, organized the first trail maintenance workshop and taught thousands of children the importance of saving the natural resources of Jamaica.

Gutsy Gals: What brought you to South Florida?

At the time, my husband and family were living in the capital city of Kingston, Jamaica. The city had a high crime rate and as a young woman with young kids, I worried about the safety of my family.  The economy was also at a low in Jamaica and many of the environmental programs were losing funding.  My husband and I decided to travel to South Florida to live close to his mother, who had migrated to this area years ago.  The South Florida Science Center was a natural fit for me, since I loved teaching science to students and I was an experienced educator.

Gutsy Gals: The South Florida Science Center has placed a particular emphasis on encouraging young women to explore Engineering, Math and Science. Can you tell me a little bit about the evolution of the GEMS program and what you are hoping to accomplish?

Carla Duhaney: At the South Florida Science Center, engaging girls in STEM activities, courses, and careers has been a long-identified goal.   Young women in our communities are missing out on exciting, challenging careers in the STEM fields with opportunities for high salaries and long-term growth.  In our  mixed-gender science programs at the Science Center,  there is a tendency for the girls to hang back and allow the boys to do the science experiments.  We developed our Girls Excelling in Math and Science (GEMs) Club in order to give interested young girls a chance to explore the world of science and engineering in a non-competitive setting. At our GEMs club, the emphasis for all participants is on learning and having fun. ALL of the girls get to do ALL of the activities and therefore experience success.    Our club meets every last Tuesday of the month and we target girls grades 3rd - 8th. A typical night includes  interactive experiments, fun STEM activities and mentoring sessions with leading women in STEM careers.

Gutsy Gals: Deborah Hutchison will be speaking to your GEMS group this week on the topic of  “Getting Animated” – are you noticing a particular interest these days among girls and young women in filmmaking?

Carla Duhaney: We have not noticed a particular interest in filmmaking (since this is not a normal Science Center program), however, we have noticed a spike in interest from females in our technology and maker programs at the South Florida Science Center.  In these workshops and week-long camps, we provide activities like soldering, technical engineering, 3D printing and robotics in a risk-free environment where there is no competition other than doing your personal best.  Participants are able to design their own robots, construct their own video games, and learn the language of computer coding.

Gutsy Gals: That's fantastic! And I hope Deborah's talk this week will let girls know that making films is another wonderful, creative career that is open to them. Women filmmakers are talking about a "movie-ment" these days, with more and more women getting involved in film. I hope some of your girls will be inspired to explore film and video.

On another topic, you are the mom of a young girl – what is your daughter telling you are the main challenges she faces today?

Carla Duhaney: My daughter is 12, and she has an interest in baking and loves making specialty cakes and cupcakes for all occasions.  She is very creative and tries constructing her cakes with small electronics and working lights. Her challenge is exploring and expressing her creativity in her regular school setting, where there are no baking club or technical programs.  This is why I believe that non-profit organizations and non-formal educational institutions are important. These are the places that children are inspired to tinker, build and create without limits.