NMSU GALS program empowered teenage girls through backpacking trip

WRITER: xtapia
CONTACT: Wiebke Boeing, 575-646-1707, wboeing

Girls from eighth through 12th grade spent five days backpacking through the Gila National Forest with four New Mexico State University graduate students in June through the Girls on Outdoor Adventure for Leadership and Science program. The GALS program started in 2017 at Duke University, and this was NMSU’s first year hosting it. The program was directed by Wiebke Boeing, aquatic ecology professor at NMSU’s Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Ecology in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.

“The mission of GALS is to increase opportunity for underrepresented females in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math,” said Boeing.

The group consisted of 12 girls led by four NMSU graduate students. They started the week by meeting with USDA Forest Service ranger Rachelle Huddleston-Lorton at the ranger station. She talked to the group about what it means to be a ranger with the USDA Forest Service and what it’s like being a woman with a career in a science-related field.

The next few days involved exploring the Gila Cliff Dwellings and learning about its history, hiking many miles, relaxing at the Jordan Hot Springs and conducting science experiments.

The girls conducted three different experiments with the help of their group leaders—graduate students Lauren Flynn, Tricia Rosetti, Lauren Kremer and Dejeanne Doublet. One group looked at algae in the river, another group observed bird activities to see if they could find any patterns, and the third group compared different species of trees and their distance from the river.

It was a challenging week for the girls because most of them had never been camping or backpacking. They gained new skills and more confidence in themselves.

“I think we were able to help expand horizons, push the possibilities of the spaces they could inhabit and push the possibilities of what their bodies are capable of,” Flynn said.

Flynn saw the difference in the girls as they headed back down to the parking lot at the end of the week.

“There was so much pride in what they had just accomplished, and I was really happy and grateful to be there to witness that,” she said.

Once the group got back to NMSU, they prepared presentations to share the results of their experiments with their families and talk about what they accomplished.

Boeing said it was a great experience for both the leaders and girls. She hopes she can keep in touch with the group and is willing to help them with their future endeavors.

“I told the girls I would love for them to come to NMSU, even if it’s not in our department. I told them I will help them with anything they need. If they need to go to the Financial Aid office or something, even if I don’t know a lot about it, I will go with them and be their support system,” she said.

The program was fully funded by donors. The main sponsors were the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Ecology, the College of ACES, Pinnacle Social Services and Everlasting Impressions. Boeing also started a GoFundMe page where friends and family could donate.

Boeing is hoping to continue the GALS program next summer and is looking for sponsors and volunteers. Sponsors will be listed on the GALS website, mentioned before the GALS presentations and receive a calendar and a thank you note from the GALS after the trip is completed.

Boeing is also looking for a group of graduate students willing to take the GALS into the wilderness next summer. For more information on the program and how you can help, visit wboeing.

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