Gracie Britt, one of many STEM students at Lakewood High, is seen with the class fish on Tuesday in Lakewood. The class studied the effects of pet fish released into the Seven Lakes area. Britt, a sophomore and the club’s president, wants to become a marine biologist. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Gracie Britt, one of many STEM students at Lakewood High, is seen with the class fish on Tuesday in Lakewood. The class studied the effects of pet fish released into the Seven Lakes area. Britt, a sophomore and the club’s president, wants to become a marine biologist. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Girls in STEM find their voice — and a local problem to solve

Lakewood High students won national recognition for an outreach project on invasive aquatic animals.

LAKEWOOD — A new club designed to get high school girls more involved in science has turned its attention toward preventing the release of invasive aquatic species into local lakes.

The work won recognition in a national contest.

The Girls in STEM club started last year at Lakewood High School. The group is open to any student, but the focus is on increasing the number of young women in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

“We have such gender inequity in science in college and the workplace,” club adviser Dani Leach said. “As a teacher, I think we have to do something about that to move girls forward.”

Leach, who teaches ninth grade science and astrobiology, wanted a place where students could come after school to explore areas of science. The club meets weekly. They have “genius hour,” when they work on projects and share what they learn. Leach plans to bring in speakers. She wants to invite women who are veterinarians, biologists, astronomers and engineers.

This year, club members decided to try a group project. They competed in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest. Though this is only the second year the club has existed and the first time the girls competed, they were selected as one of the top five projects in Washington.

They’ve been studying invasive species in the Seven Lakes area. The goal is to do something that could make a difference in their own back yard, and the lakes near Stanwood and Marysville have seen some exotic inhabitants. One of the most well-known examples was in 2013, when a fisherman caught what looked to be a pacu. The toothy South American fish is related to the piranha, though it mainly eats fruits and vegetables.

Gracie Britt, 16, is president of Girls in STEM. She joined the club last year as a freshman. She lives within walking distance of Lake Goodwin.

She and her clubmates found a lot of public outreach about invasive plant species and the importance of native plants. However, there didn’t seem to be as much about invasive animals. Non-native fish, frogs, turtles and other creatures end up in local lakes. Likely they were pets until they were set loose, Britt said. That often happens because the owner wasn’t prepared to care for the animal or didn’t know how big it would grow. Sometimes, people move out of the area and set their pets free.

It’s not a mercy to the pet, and it’s not good for the ecosystem, Britt said. The pet likely will die in the wild and, if it does survive, it might compete with native species.

The club’s goal is to get information pamphlets into pet stores so people are more informed before they buy an aquatic animal. Buyers should know what kind of care is required, how large the animal might get and the damage that can be done if they decide to dump it into a lake or stream. They also aim to make a public service announcement for high school students and possibly a book for elementary kids.

“What I see with students is that it’s not really apathy, they just don’t have the confidence to tackle the world’s problems,” Leach said. “But to get them to do a local project where they can see the effects over the next year or so, that’s educational magic.”

Britt’s interest in aquatic species isn’t a fleeting one. She wants to study marine biology. She’s been fascinated with it since her mom took her to the aquarium when she was in third grade.

“I fell in love with it, and I didn’t want to leave,” she said. “Since then, people have been telling me I can’t do it, and I just want to prove them wrong.”

She said people tend to doubt her dreams because she’s not at the top of her class. She wants to show them you don’t have to ace every test to pursue a career in science.

Leach hopes to see Girls in STEM grow. Given some support, she thinks more young women can break into STEM fields.

“I’m not here to dictate what we do,” Leach said. “It’s just to help girls reach their dreams, whatever they may be.”

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439;

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Kim Skarda points at her home on a map on Thursday, June 20, 2024 in Concrete, Washington. A community called Sauk River Estates has a very steep slope above it. There is a DNR-approved timber sale that boarders the estate properties, yet they were not consulted about the sale before approval. The community has already appealed the sale and has hired their own geologist to conduct a slope stability report at the site. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Beneath steep slope, Concrete neighbors fear landslides from logging above

Nielsen Brothers plans to cut 54 acres of timber directly behind the community of 83 homes. Locals said they were never consulted.

Law enforcement respond to a person hit by a train near the Port of Everett Mount Baker Terminal on Thursday, June 27, 2024 in Mukilteo, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
2 killed in waterfront train crashes were near Mukilteo ‘quiet zone’

In June, two people were hit by trains on separate days near Mukilteo Boulevard. “These situations are incredibly tragic,” Everett’s mayor said.

Rob Plotnikoff takes a measurement as a part of the county's State of Our Waters survey at Tambark Creek in Bothell, Washington on Monday, July 1, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Snohomish County stream team bushwhacks a path to healthier waterways

This summer, the crew of three will survey 40 sites for the State of Our Waters program. It’s science in locals’ backyards.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Mountlake Terrace in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
4th suspect arrested after Mountlake Terrace home robbery

Police arrested Taievion Rogers, 19, on Tuesday. Prosecutors charged his three alleged accomplices in April.

A 10 acre parcel off of Highway 99, between 240th and 242nd Street Southwest that the city of Edmonds is currently in the process of acquiring on Monday, July 10, 2023 in Edmonds, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Edmonds ditches $37M Landmark public park project off Highway 99

The previous mayor envisioned parks and more in south Edmonds, in a historically neglected area. The new administration is battling budget woes.

Edmonds school official sworn in as Mount Vernon supe

Victor Vergara took his oath of office last week. He was assistant superintendent of equity and student success in Edmonds.

A photo of "Tazz," an Argentine white Tegu still missing near Granite Falls. (Provided photo)
Tazz the missing tegu reunited with owner in Granite Falls

The 4-foot lizard went missing Friday evening. Searchers located him in a barn, 1 mile away from his home.

A closing sign hangs above the entrance of the Big Lots at Evergreen and Madison on Monday, July 22, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Big Lots announces it will shutter Everett and Lynnwood stores

The Marysville store will remain open for now. The retailer reported declining sales in the first quarter of the year.

President Joe Biden speaks at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, in Greensboro, N.C., on April 14, 2022. Biden plans to nominate Michael Barr  to be the Federal Reserve's vice chairman of supervision. The selection of Barr comes after Biden's first choice for the Fed post, Sarah Bloom Raskin, withdrew her nomination a month ago (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Washington Democrats voice support for Biden’s decision to drop out of presidential race

Some quickly endorsed Vice President Kamala Harris to replace him on the ballot.

Teenager in stable condition after Everett drive-by shooting Saturday

Major Crime Unit detectives were looking for two suspects believed to have shot the teenager in the 600 block of 124th Street SW.

Miners Complex tops 500 acres in Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

Nine lightning-caused fires force trail closures and warnings 21 miles east of Darrington. No homes are threatened.

FILE — President Joe Biden arrives for a Medal of Honor ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, July 3, 2024. Biden abandoned his campaign for a second term under intense pressure from fellow Democrats on Sunday, July 21, upending the race for the White House in a dramatic last-minute bid to find a new candidate who can stop former President Donald Trump from returning to the White House. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)
Biden drops out of race, endorses vice president Kamala Harris

The president announced the decision on social media Sunday.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.