Girls Have Fun With Chemistry at the WCC Girls Day Camp, Bonding With Chemistry

A camper in goggles engaging in hands-on activities at the Bonding With Chemistry camp.

July 13, 2017

This summer, the 10th annual WCC Girls Day Camp, Bonding With Chemistry, brought 90 rising 6th–8th grade girls to campus to do as its name suggests…bond with chemistry. Held at the Chemistry Annex from 9:00 am to 3:30 pm on both June 24th and July 8th, the day camp provided hands-on, chemistry-related activities for the 45 students who participated each Saturday.

The outreach was sponsored by the Women Chemists Committee (WCC) of the local chapter of the American Chemical Society. The WCC is comprised of 50–100 women (and men) who are interested in attracting, developing, promoting, and advocating for women in the chemical sciences. Funding for the camp was provided by the East Central Illinois American Chemical Society (ECI–ACS), and the Chemical Biology Interface (CBI).

Heading up this summer’s event were Michaela Carlson, a 4th year Chemistry graduate student, who was in her 3rd year helping with the event, and fellow Co-Chair Courtney Ford, also a 4th year grad student helping with the outreach for the 2nd year.

Here’s one indicator of how fun and engaging the camp is: some of the girls who have taken the camp in previous years came back again this year. According to the co-chairs, about 20% of the participants had attended the camp before.

While having repeat attenders is rewarding, it also makes for more work, since the camp volunteers must come up with brand new, hands-on activities. “We have new designs each year because we get a lot of repeats,” Carlson indicates, “so we want them to learn new things.”

Chemistry graduate students Michaela Carlson and Courtney Ford.

Did any of the activities they planned involve blowing things up? “No,” Carlson indicates, laughing, “at least not planned.” But students did get to see some fire. As they were arriving, to get them in the mood, several Illinois chemistry grad students presented fun and engaging demonstrations—some involving fire, of course.

For most of the day, the girls rotated between five stations, spending about 45 minutes at each. One station during which the girls expressed their individual creativity was Tie-Dye Chromatography (the one station they repeat every year), during which the girls tie-dyed camp t-shirts and a tie-dyed a flower to take home, Other stations were: Cosmetic Chemistry, where the girls made cosmetics such as lip balm, sun screen, etc.; the Chemistry of Macromolecules, Symmetry & Chirality, and Nanochemistry, where the girls suited up in lab coats and goggles and did some lab work.

Also, to ensure that the middle-schoolers have sweet memories of the day, they were rewarded with candy every time they got an answer right during the chemistry game at lunch. Another cool thing about the day? The girls got some liquid nitrogen ice cream just before they went home.

Illinois Chemistry graduate student presenting a demonstration for campers.

In addition to Carson and Ford, numerous chemistry grad students volunteered, based on the amount of time they could contribute to the project. Some were involved months ahead of time, planning the stations; designing and ordering the t-shirts; compiling the experiments into a lab notebook the could students use, then take home. Some volunteers who couldn’t invest as much time, but still wanted to be involved, helped on the day of the event with the stations, which generally needed 3–5 folks in addition to those who planned them.

Ford and Carlson admit that their goal in doing the event is to target younger girls and get them interested in STEM in hopes that they remain interested as they get older.

“People always quote that the time when most girls kind of lose interest in going into STEM fields is right around middle school age,” acknowledges Ford. “So our goal of getting middle school girls to come in and have positive grad student roles models and also do all these fun, exciting hands-on activities is to help continue the interest in science and in chemistry.”

In order to pique and retain the girls’ excitement about chemistry even after the camp is over, Carlson indicates that they’re also intentional regarding the different components of the day camp—such as the lab notebooks and even the different experiments they choose.

“Yeah, part of the reason we do the lab notebooks is so that they can take that home and repeat some of the experiments as well. So generally we do household items so they'll be able to do that. We also give them goodie bags of fun chemistry things. So sometimes there are little journals that talk about the chemistry and the environment, or whatever is going on, that are aimed at middle schoolers.”

She adds that they’re also intentional about the cost, in hopes of enabling the underserved to participate: “This camp is completely free for the participants! We provide lunch, and everything is free for them. We really want to draw in as many people as possible, and don't want anyone to be excluded.”

Campers engaging in hands-on activities.

So to recruit from a broad spectrum of participants, the co-chairs contacted 23 middle schools in the area, plus sent out an announcement on the university’s e-week listserv. While most of the participants were local, several came from as far away as Chicago.

"“This is a great way of getting middle school aged girls interest in science,” Carlson acknowledges, “and continue their interest in science. We try and make it so students can come and take some of these experiments home and show their parents, so that they don't forget about it the day after. So we really want this to be something that they look back on fondly, and by the rate of return we get (we get about 20% come back), obviously we're doing something right.”

Another proof that they’re doing something right: Bonding With Chemistry is, after all, in its 10th year. But how about when this reporter’s granddaughter gets old enough to participate in the camp in two years? “It will still be going on,” Carlson avows.

Story and photographs by Elizabeth Innes, Communications Specialist, I-STEM Education Initiative.

More: 6-8 Outreach, Chemistry, Summer Camp, Women in STEM, 2017

For additional I-STEM articles on Engineering camps and outreach activities, see:




A camper expresses creativity at the camp.

A Bonding With Chemistry camper in goggles and a lab coat.
A camper at the Tie-Dye Chromatography station.
A camper engaging in a demonstration using fire.

Graduate students helping campers with different camp activities.

SOLIDarity EXperiences (SOLIDEX) through the Eyes of Children

What do children aged 11-13 in two countries think about solidarity?
Full Story

Students launch ASL STEM Vocabulary App Company

Students launch ASL STEM Vocabulary App Company
Full Story

Innovation, Inspiration on display at the Undergraduate Research Symposium

Undergraduate Research Week took place April 23-29, 2023, and culminated Thursday, April 27, 2023
Full Story

What would you like to see – 3D printers? Magnets? Solar-powered racing cars? Robobrawl?

March 28, 2023
EOH occurs Friday, March 31, and Saturday, April 1, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.
Full Story

Tour of Illinois’ Materials Research Lab through I-MRSEC sparks Franklin students’ interest in Materials Science

March 1, 2023
Students from the Champaign middle school had a tour of the Material Research Laboratory (MRL) in early February.
Full Story

Nobel Project’s End-of-Year Zoom Bash Recaps Learning

February 1, 2022
The STEM Illinois Nobel Project held a special, end-of-the-year Zoom event celebrating its participating students’ achievements.
Full Story

It’s not magic, it’s physics

January 26, 2022
In Franklin STEAM Academy, Musical Magnetism program makes STEM fun, approachable.
Full Story

Program prepares STEM educators to teach all students

November 30, 2021
This summer, a group of educators gathered to learn about engaging STEM activities they can do with their students.
Full Story

Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program

November 11, 2021
Undergrads get a taste of research through I-MRSEC’s REU program.
Full Story

Goldstein’s Renaissance Engineering Summer Camp

November 1, 2021
Goldstein’s Renaissance Engineering Summer Camp Incorporates Art, Design, Mechatronics, and Mentoring
Full Story

TechTogether Chicago to Redefine the Hacker Stereotype

July 10, 2021
New workshops that can help inspire students to pursue careers in technology..
Full Story

Aerospace Engineering Launches Virtual Summer Camps to Pique Students’ Interest in Aero.

July 2, 2021
Design an aircraft then watch it soar after launching it with a huge rubber band. Build a Mars lander to safely transport a real egg, then test the contraption by dropping it from a second story window.
Full Story

Undergrads Experience Materials Science Research Courtesy of the I-MRSEC REU

June 16, 2021
Ten undergraduate students are spending the summer of 2021 discovering what research is like.
Full Story

MatSE Afterschool Academy

MatSE Afterschool Academy

June 14, 2021
MatSE Afterschool Academy to Introduce Students to Materials Science and Beyond.
Full Story

Taylor Tucker Embraces Multidisciplinary Interest

Taylor Tucker Embraces Multidisciplinary Interest

June 14, 2021
Taylor Tucker Embraces Multidisciplinary Interest While Researching Task Collaboration.
Full Story

Exposes Franklin Middle Schoolers to Science, CS

What Studying Engineering at Illinois is Like?

May 25, 2021
NSBE’s Michaela Horn Exposes Franklin Middle Schoolers to Science, CS, and What Studying Engineering at Illinois is Like.
Full Story

Jenny Saves a Convertible.

Children’s-Book-Writing Duo/

May 19, 2021
Convertibles and Thunderstorms—Children’s-Book-Writing Duo on Their Way Thanks to Illinois Training and Encouragement from Mentors.
Full Story

Improve Learning in Engineering

Improve Learning in Engineering

May 17, 2021
Liebenberg Espouses Mini-Projects to Engage Students Emotionally, Improve Learning in Engineering.
Full Story

Joshua Whitely makes an adjustment to the 3D Bioprinter during the demo.

BIOE435 Capstone Projects

May 12, 2021
BIOE435 Capstone Projects - BIOE Seniors Use Knowledge/Skills to Problem Solve.
Full Story

Elani and Gonzalo shine a UV light on a rose that has absorbed a solution that has made it fluorescent.

Illinois Scientists Shine a (UV) Light on Fluorescence

May 7, 2021
What is fluorescence? What causes it?
Full Story

Joshua Whitely makes an adjustment to the 3D Bioprinter during the demo.

HackIllinois 2021 “Rekindled Connections” With The Tech Community

May 5, 2021
Annual student hackathon HackIllinois with the aim of developing projects on current problems facing society.
Full Story

A Shane Mayer-Gawlik image of the Bridger Aurora, part of his Night Skies photography collection exhibited at the Art-Science Festival.

The Art-Science Festival

April 26, 2021
Illinois Art-Science Festival: Illuminating the Universe...from the Quantum World to the Cosmos.
Full Story

Joshua Whitely makes an adjustment to the 3D Bioprinter during the demo.

Illinois Engineering Seniors Prepared to Change the World

April 22, 2021
Ready. Set. Go! Illinois Engineering Seniors Prepared to Change the World.
Full Story

HML 2021 Virtual Health

HML 2021 Virtual Health

April 19, 2021
Make-a-Thon Gives Citizen Scientists a Shot at Making Their Health-Related Innovations a Reality.
Full Story

I-MRSEC’s Music Video

I-MRSEC’s Music Video

April 7, 2021
I-MRSEC’s Music Video for EOH ’21 Plugs Graphene, 2D Materials
Full Story

Health Make-a-Thon Orientation

HML 2021 Health Orientation

March 30, 2021
HML 2021 Health Make-a-Thon Orientation Prepares Finalists for Competition.
Full Story

Andrea Perry shows Franklin students how to take apart the magnetic drawing board they received in their kit

Musical Magnetism

March 25, 2021
Musical Magnetism: Encouraging Franklin Middle Schoolers to Express Science Via the Arts.
Full Story

Carmen Paquette street performing.

Love of Science

March 9, 2021
Paquette Conveys Her Love of Science, Dance to Franklin STEAM Students Via Musical Magnetism.
Full Stroy

An Engineering Exploration participant exhibits the tower they built as part of the engineering challenge related to Civil Engineering

Engineering Exploration

March 2, 2021
SWE’s Engineering Exploration Outreach Lives Up to Its Name.

ChiS&E’s Family STEM Day

ChiS&E’s Family STEM Day

February 23, 2021
Helps Chicago Youngsters Progress Along the STEM Pipeline Toward Engineering.

Kathny Walsh

Kathy Walsh

February 17, 2021
On Her First Foray into STEAM, Kathy Walsh Acquaints Franklin Students with Microscopy, Haiku.

ChiS&E student

ChiS&E CPS Students

January 19, 2021
Illinois Undergrads Encourage ChiS&E CPS Students Toward Possible Careers in Engineering.

I-MRSEC’s Music Video

CISTEME365 Provides Year-Round PD/Community

January 4, 2021
to Illinois Teachers in Support of Informal STEM Education Efforts to Underserved Students.