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Meet the Women Scientists of Hands-On Labs

March is Women’s History Month, and this year’s theme is “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.” Four out of the five scientists at Hands-On Labs (HOL) are women, so we thought this month was the perfect opportunity to celebrate women at HOL and introduce the hard-working scientists behind our content.

Barbekka Hurtt – Director of R&D


Barbekka received her Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the University of Colorado at Boulder, from which she also received a B.A. in Biology and a B.S. in Kinesiology. She completed her post-doctoral training at the Harvard School of Public Health in neuromechanics and pharmacokinetics. She taught at the undergraduate, graduate, and medical school levels in VA and CO focusing on biology, anatomy, physiology, neuroscience, biomechanics and related disciplines, before transitioning into business development.

What do you do at HOL? 

I’m responsible for leading the R&D team in the development of current and future laboratory experiences, including integrating new experiments, techniques, technologies, pedagogy and assessment opportunities within the laboratory experience to better meet current and future student and instructor educational goals and outcomes.

What excites you about the future of science research and education?

Science constantly keeps you engaged – there are always new discoveries or new ideas and ways of applying knowledge.  The future of science will engage cross-disciplinary applications between scientific fields and advance the boundaries of knowledge, scientific discovery, new product development, and applications to health and wellness for humans, animals, and the environment.

Education is an incredibly dynamic field. The opportunities to engage faculty and students in meaningful and interesting ways are increasing dramatically with changes in technology, instructional design, and learning theory.

Emily Barter – Science Project Leader & Biological Chemistry Author


Emily holds a B.S. in chemistry from the George Washington University, and a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Indiana University. At Indiana University she taught a Service Learning in Chemistry course, where college students worked together to develop hands-on science lessons and activities for local elementary students. Following her time at Indiana University, she worked for Knowledge Learning Corporation as a Science Curriculum Specialist; conceptualizing, developing, teaching, and writing K-8 science curriculum. She also filmed science lessons for teacher training.

What do you do at HOL? 

As the Science Project Leader at HOL, I work with a team of women scientists to design, develop, and write, engaging science experiments and curriculum. We work with professors at universities and colleges across the country and always have a great time!

Who is your favorite woman scientist?

There are so many great women scientists, but my current favorite is Temple Grandin (Ph.D. in Animal Science from University of Illiniois at Urbana-Champaign). Temple Grandin recognized her own anxieties and insecurities in animals, and spent her life working towards animal welfare.  It is always inspiring to see someone dedicate their life to improving the life of other living things, both people and animals.

Leah Stroud – Biology, Anatomy and Physiology, and Exercise Science Author


Leah Stroud earned her B.S. in Exercise Science from Truman State University, and her M.A. in Exercise Physiology from the University of Houston at Clear Lake. She worked at the NASA Johnson Space Center for 5 years, first as a research assistant in the Neuroscience Laboratory and then as an exercise physiologist in the Exercise Physiology Laboratory. While at NASA, Leah did research on human adaptation to spaceflight, including changes associated with cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, and neurovestibular systems. After leaving NASA, Leah worked as a full-time lecturer at Rice University in the Kinesiology Department. More recently, Leah also taught biology and physiology courses at the Denver School of Nursing and the Community College of Denver.

What do you do at HOL?

I am a science writer for HOL. I write laboratories for students who are in distance education classes, specifically in the disciplines of anatomy and physiology, biology, chemistry, Earth science, and environmental science.

When and how did you first become interested in science?

I have always been interested in science, and really love to learn. When I began my undergraduate degree, I started taking classes to pursue a psychology major. In addition, I had to take a broad range of courses because I was attending a liberal arts school. I enjoyed many different classes that I took such as history and theater, and I could have taken many directions and been happy. However, I began a path in exercise physiology, and I absolutely loved each of the exercise science courses. I learned about the human body, how it works, and how it operates during extreme conditions such as exercise and spaceflight. I performed research, worked with human subjects, and really enjoyed it. I knew that I made the right choice. I have a passion for science, and continue to learn every day as I write laboratories for students. Science is truly my passion.

Holly Houtz – Biology and Environmental Science Author


Holly earned her B.S. in Biology from Virginia Tech, and her M.S. in Biology from Virginia Commonwealth University.  Holly worked as an Environmental Outreach Specialist at VCU, acting as a liaison among researchers, management agencies, school systems, and the public. Some of the grant-funded programs she collaborated on include tracking and monitoring endangered Atlantic sturgeon in the Chesapeake Bay, investigating ecosystem-level dynamics of aquatic mesocosms at middle and high schools, aiding ecological assessments of a state park on the historic James River, and creating content for environmental smartphone tours.

What do you do at HOL?

I develop science curricula, which includes writing science content and crafting creative hands-on experiences. My goal is to make science exciting. I am particularly invested in our Biology and Environmental Science solutions, and I’m currently writing a lab about mammals in which students investigate hedgehogs, the duck-billed platypus, kangaroos, pigs, and humans!

What advice would you give to girls and young women interested in a career in science?

Always let your interests dictate your path! Figure out what type of career appeals to you the most, and talk to someone who has that type of work. Ask them for advice. Don’t be timid- you would be surprised how many people are willing to give you guidance and offer opportunities. Ask yourself regularly what it is you would like to do, and don’t be afraid to change paths!

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