Founded by Kina McAllister, 23 year old research technician at the Fred Hutch Cancer Research Center in Seattle, the boxes come equipped with a variety of mostly-reusable scientific equipment, including pipettes, Nitrile gloves, a tube rack, and of course, safety goggles. The recipients use these and other items to tackle that box’s suggested scientific experiment, like extracting strawberry DNA, or can use it to explore other things that peak their curiosity.
“What I focused on was putting experiments together that had hands on work with pretty immediate results that they could try over and over again.” McAllister says. She doesn’t view her boxes as in-depth lessons or test prep, but as opportunities for the children to get excited about the sciences. “It’s a satisfying feeling for kids to have a question, and go and figure out the answer for themselves.” Still, for the overachievers out there, each box comes with links to websites with further information regarding the experiments.
Her passion for science took her to Seattle University where she majored in General Science, discovering a less-than-equitable playing field along the way. McAllister recalls a time when an unnamed professor denied her request to volunteer in his lab, despite there being space available. Instead, the professor offered to pass her off to “another chica.” McAllister, who is Latina, says this treatment was a “turning point” for her. “Once you realize there’s a problem you start to notice it more.”
She later gave a talk at Ignite Seattle 22, where she discussed her mistreatment, and voiced her thoughts about breaking down stereotypes in the sciences. She received positive feedback from audience members afterwards, encouraging her to keep thinking about inequities in her field. Then one day, while driving with with her friend in West Seattle, the idea finally crystallized. She wouldn’t wait for the toy industry to get little girls excited about sciences; she’d do it herself.
McAllister sought to ensure the boxes would speak to little girls by testing them firsthand. “I would be in the chip aisle talking to people, ‘hi do you have kids’ and I was worried they were gonna kick me out,” McAllister laughs. But most parents she spoke to seemed interested, so a Facebook page was created and she held her first workshop in March of this year using HiveBio’s Community Lab space. There were 20 seats available. Parents paid $10 per kid, and her prototype, the Strawberry DNA Extraction Box, was tested. It was a success.
McAllister hopes that in addition to providing young girls with a good jumping-on point to the field of science, StemBox will also provide potential role models for the would-be scientists. Each box contains a link to a video interview with a female working in a branch of science. For the first box, McAllister herself steps into the spotlight. The other box currently available, the Owl Pellet Dissection Box, provides a link to an interview with raptor-keeper Ros Bas-Fournier (no, not that kind of raptor). McAllister plans to interview a woman in science for each box. Right now, she’s eyeing aviation and aerodynamics as potential themes for the next one.
For those interested in purchasing a box, head over to her kickstarter page. The boxes are purchased by making a donation to her campaign, which at current tally has raised over $19,000, surpassing her original goal of $15K. Doesn’t take a math whiz to figure out that a whole bunch of young girls are about to be introduced to the world of science.