HUNTINGTON - More than 350 children combed through the grass of Marshall University's Buskirk Field on Saturday, collecting brightly colored plastic eggs.

The eggs, which numbered more than 5,000, weren't all filled with typical Easter candy, however. Some contained shark teeth, small geodes and other science-related artifacts.

It was part of the third annual Easter Science Blitz hosted by the Marshall University College of Science and West Virginia Science Adventures.

After the children cleared the field of eggs, they retreated into the Science Building to interact with 25 hands-on science activities. The plastic eggs were then recycled for next year.

The event was created three years ago to give children new ways to learn about science and to get them thinking about higher education, said Suzanne Strait, a professor with Marshall University's Department of Biological Sciences and director of West Virginia Science Adventures.

"We want all activities to be hands-on so kids get a little more than they get in school. We also like the idea of getting kids to campus to see what Marshall is about and see what college is about," Strait said. "A lot of our activities are actually in science labs, so they get to see what a college science lab looks like."

Most people don't step foot onto campus until they are college freshmen, she said.

"It's important to get them thinking about going to college early," Strait said. "Some kids come for sports, but don't actually go inside the buildings."

Inside the Science Building, student volunteers hosted activities to help children make slime, peer into microscopes, pet furry mammals and hold snakes, among other things.

Inside one science lab, sophomore microbiology student Melanie Browning was helping 6-year-old Carley Coleman hold a furry tarantula in her hands.

Browning said it's important to teach children about respecting all sizes of wildlife, including ones that can be scary to some.

"We are encroaching on environments, especially arachnids who need a certain type of environment," Browning said. "We are becoming more urbanized, and they are coming into our homes and we are killing them."

Coleman's mother, Tiffany, both of Cross Lanes, West Virginia, said she was impressed that her daughter was unafraid of the tarantula. It was a side of her daughter she had not seen before, but she was not surprised because her daughter loves to learn new things.

"She loves science and she loves STEM-related activities," Coleman said, using the academic abbreviation for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Inside another science lab, Liz Lester was introducing children to sugar gliders, which are small marsupials related to possums.

Lester, a graduate student pursuing a master's in biology, said she wanted to teach children about the animals and also impress upon parents that they don't make good pets.

"I have rescued about 15 at home from people who have impulsed bought them and then discovered they are actually very hard to take care of," she said.

Strait said Saturday's event was special for student volunteers from the department, providing them with an opportunity to educate others about their chosen career fields.

"A lot of people do community service, but there is a point to where you learn enough about a field that you can actually do community service in that career field," she said.

Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.

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