LabCandy: This is What a Scientist Looks Like

Contributed by Olivia Pavco-Giaccia

As a young girl, I never believed that I was a 'science' kid, until I took Ms. Mary Cahill's 6th grade class. Not only did we work together in teams with lots of hands-on activities, but Ms. Cahill's dedication and enthusiasm to her subject convinced me to give STEM a try. I was fortunate again my freshman year in high school when I was assigned to Ms. Denise Rietz as my academic advisor. Ms. Rietz taught biology, and she pushed me to pursue my passion.

Not everybody is lucky enough to have a Ms. Cahill or a Ms. Rietz to mentor them. By the time I reached high school, I noticed that fewer and fewer of my girl friends were taking STEM classes. In fact, the numbers had been declining since middle school. I wanted to help change those statistics, so I worked with the National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP) to help with some of their incredible, girl-centric STEM programs. I attended an NGCP conference nearby my home and was thrilled to be surrounded by so many people who were not only passionate about STEM, but who also encouraged me in that same passion.  I met Karen and the NGCP staff and their energy was contagious. I attended additional conferences, including one where I spoke about my own experiences being a girl in STEM.  I saw the tangible results of being mentored and feeling like a welcomed part of the science world, and it was transformative. I went on to work with the PBS kids show SciGirls, the Center for Talented Youth (CTY), and several other organizations, all in the name of encouraging girls in STEM. At the same time, I was inspired to pursue my own STEM interests, doing research at Georgetown University, and then at Stanford University. While I worked, I also kept a blog about my experiences on the lab bench. The blog was called ‘LabCandy,’ and it was inspired by NGCP’s positive message. I hoped that it might encourage other young women to get stoked about STEM.

Bedazzled GogglesOne day, I decided to post a picture of some bedazzled lab goggles on my blog. I didn't think anything of it until I logged on and was flooded with comments from little girls all over the country asking me: "where can I get a pair of those goggles!?" That was the moment where I realized I had stumbled across something that resonated with girls. I decided to make another pair...and another. Thus the idea for LabCandy was born.

LabCandy is social enterprise that helps get young girls (K-3rd grade) interested in science. It started as just lab goggles, but with the help of the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, NGCP, and some fabulous mentors (thanks Karen!), it has evolved into an entire cast of characters and accessories. Our first character is Ava, she’s in third grade and she loves chemistry. Ava’s combo pack comes with brightly colored, DIY decorative goggles, a brightly patterned lab coat, and a storybook. The storybook, called Ava And The Copper Key, is a storybook and workbook in one. Interspersed throughout the storyline are fun, interactive pages where readers can write in Ava's science journal. Young readers can take a crack at forming some of their own hypotheses, and as Ava asks questions and learns the scientific method, so do they. In addition, the book contains 'recipe cards' that explain how to recreate Ava's favorite experiments at home. This includes the famous copper key experiment that Ava uses to save the day, as well as several other simple, kid-safe, chemistry experiments for lots of interactive fun.

So far everything we’ve sold we’ve made by hand. It’s been a great way to fine-tune our product, but it’s difficult to produce enough products to truly make a difference. In order to bring Ava to life, we need to start factory production. Unfortunately, factory production is expensive due to minimum order requirements. So, we’ve created a Kickstarter campaign.

For those of you who are not familiar with Kickstarter, it’s a website where people can pledge small amounts of money (as little as 5 dollars,) in order to collectively launch a product that they believe in.  Please take a look at our campaign page, and consider backing us. Also, pass us along on social media via the hashtag #labcandy! We need as much support as possible to make this dream a reality. My journey in STEM was jump-started with NGCP, so it seems fitting that Ava’s journey would too.  

Thank you for your time,

-Olivia

 Olivia Pavco-Giaccia is a Junior at Yale University and a member of the NGCP National Champions Board.