Grant middle school girls become scientists with ‘lotions and potions’

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What started as a Twitter connection between Jessica Coleman of the Legacy Mentoring Group and Atlanta-based scientist and educator Dr. Rasheda likely turned into an opportunity for black and brown girls at Grant Middle School to become scientists.

The event, held virtually on the Friday before Marion City Schools break for spring break, allowed Likely to guide the 50 enthusiastic students at Grant Middle School through the first of his six-part program, ” Lotions and Potions: Science through Hair Care”.

Dr. Rasheda probably has a Ph.D.  in Education from Drexel University.  She currently works as an assistant professor of science education at Kennesaw State University and is developing her "Lotions and potions: science through hair care" seeking a broader and more interactive curriculum.

Each girl came away from the hour-long session with science education and a hair oil of her own creation.

“It was a really wonderful event. The students were receptive, and I sent the materials, and they had already printed them for the girls. They were there and everyone was ready. They had all the ingredients in front of them, and I had them on my side,” Likely explained.

Probably, who is currently an Assistant Professor of Science Education at Kennesaw State University, has been passionate about science and medicine since childhood.

Dr. Rasheda probably leads the "Lotions and potions" session with the girls of Grant Middle School.

She developed her scientific program by representing black women and girls while obtaining her doctorate. in Education from Drexel University, focusing specifically on the science of manufacturing hair and skin care products.

“We use scientific standards that are focused on organs and organ systems, and so it’s still very heavy in science content but really fun because you can create a product that you can use right away, and I was able to do one of these six lessons with Grant Middle School,” Likely said.

After starting Legacy Mentoring Group from her Leading Ladies program which she facilitated through Marion City Schools for five years, Coleman contacted Grant Middle School guidance counselor Robin VanSickle, who recruited principal Chris Saiben and Diversity and Equity Supervisor Johnnie Jackson to help organize the event.

“Dr. Rasheda Likely is a scientist, so I found her on Twitter and saw that she did this amazing program where she invited black and brown girls to experiment with hair oils and make their own hair oil,” Coleman said.

It was Likely’s first time doing her program virtually, and she said the support she received from Marion City School staff encouraged her to expand what she knew was possible for her program.

“I didn’t know I could do it virtually. I didn’t even know it was possible. But they were like, ‘Yeah we’re gonna do it,’ and I’m like, ‘Okay!’ Probably said laughing.

Dr. Rasheda Likely gave a presentation to black and brown girls at Grant Middle School on March 18, sharing the science behind hair oils.

Coleman said all the girls seemed to be having a great time and the event had a 100% positive rating when looking at the reflection prompts given to the students.

Reading some of the responses given in response to the event, VanSickle agreed that the school had seen only positive responses to Likely’s science presentation.

A girl’s answer to the question “You prefer to do science with your hair, why or why not?” stood out for VanSickle:

“Yes, because I was able to discover things that I had never experienced before with my hair.”

VanSickle, who taught science at Grant for 10 years before transitioning into the role of advisor, explained the importance of uplifting female scientists, especially female scientists of color.

“Thinking specifically about black women, I mean how often do you hear a child say to themselves, ‘I didn’t know this was possible until I saw someone who looked like me doing it’ “, she said.

Allow secondary school girls to participate in the "Lotions and potions" presentation by Dr Rasheda Likely.

Thinking back to Likely’s early career, this is the very reason she focused on education from research when she participated in an after-school program after earning her M.Sc. science in biology from the University of North Florida.

This is where three black 7th grade girls didn’t believe she was actually a scientist, thinking she had to be a teacher because she was helping with the curriculum.

“I was like, ‘No – I’m not a teacher. I work in the lab around the corner. I’m a scientist. That’s what I do.’ And then they laughed in my face. Three seventh-grade girls laughed in my face and told me I wasn’t a scientist because scientists are old white men,” Likely said.

Using oils and droppers, girls at Grant Middle School measure their hair oils for the "Lotions and potions" presentation.

This experience led her to obtain her doctorate. in STEM education, working to make science a more fun and inclusive space for black women and girls.

VanSickle said Principal Saiben was “super impressed” with Likely’s program and if the school could invite him back to lead another session in the future, it would.

“Overall, of course, the girls were thrilled and they liked it, and they came up to the monitor to talk to him, ask him questions from Dr Likely. They felt represented, which is hugely important,” VanSickle said.

Story by: Sophia Veneziano (740) 564 – 5243 | [email protected]

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