by Jill Brownlee Wolf
Our intent was to have live-action segments embedded in every story (book or animated episode) to show real children doing real science. But because we wanted the kids to be different every time, letting more real children across the country/world participate, and we wanted the context and location to be different every time showing all the various places scientific exploration can take place, we had nothing consistent from segment to segment. Parents recommended a sort of mentor character that was in every segment to give children someone to count on and look for.
Thus was born our scientific mentor.
We wanted her to be a HER because it’s important for young girls to see women in science and engineering roles. We wanted her to be hip, young, trendy, and attractive so children would perceive science and engineering exploration and careers to be “cool.” No offense to Ms Frizzle of Magic Schoolbus or Sheldon of Big Bang Theory, because both are funny in their own way, but they perpetuate a certain nerdy, uncoolness to science and engineering careers. People were always surprised to see me, a decent looking young woman who dressed in fashion, listened to pop music, and played sports to be a “science teacher.” We wanted to inspire all young people to see themselves as scientists and engineers pursuing knowledge and answers to life’s huge problems.
We wanted her to be a little crazy, but in a relevant way. Her crazy shows up in two ways. Physical humor in a sort of smart “I Love Lucy,” type of response to children, cheerleader C jumps in celebration of small successes, eyes that create curiosity as to what Miss Jill is thinking, and active hands that express both her uniqueness and her hands-on approach. The second is in her attire. She would wear an extremely LARGE sunhat when they are on a boat or at the beach exploring as to protect her skin from the sun’s damaging UV rays. On an exploration of animals that camouflage themselves, she would have army camo paint on her hands, legs and face to attempt to camouflage herself. Additionally, she is fascinated by color. This mentor would have favorites and splashes of it all over her, but always with her lab coat. The major identifying factor of a scientist or engineer is a lab coat. Thus she will wear it ALWAYS.
We wanted her to be trustworthy as the children need to trust she will encourage and cheer them on even when faced with perceived failure. We want parents to trust her with their children and know that her craziness comes from a heart of curious exploration versus an unsafe bent toward trouble.
The more we defined her, the more unclear her name should be. Out of an homage sense of loyalty the team decided to appreciate me by naming her Miss Jill. I’m very honored.
The auditions for Miss Jill took place in April and we saw a number of talented young women. Amy Handelman stood out above the rest as both capable and encompassing of the essence of our Miss Jill.
It will be fun to watch Amy bring her to life.