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Career Options Program Shows Girls Opportunities in Math-, Science-Related Fields

Source: Houston Chronicle, March 8, 1997
By Alice Adams ThisWeekend Correspondent

"We want the girls to see role models in the fields of math and science. We want them to hear these women talk about how they established their careers."
-- Margaret Carlson, American Association of University Women

Twenty years ago, the American Association of University Women began a program titled "Expanding Your Horizons" to make young women aware of career opportunities in math- and science-related fields.

Today, there is an engineer with Hughes Aircraft in Arizona who first learned there were women in aeronautics by attending the AAUW program. In Hawaii, a marine biologist studies the causes of a dying reef because she attended an "Expanding Your Horizons" program 15 years ago.

During the last two decades, more than 400,000 girls have participated in the "Expanding Your Horizons" program across the nation.

In Houston, the West Harris County Branch of AAUW has presented "Expanding Your Horizons" for five years. Organizers invite 600 girls in grades six through eight, along with their parents and teachers, to spend a day learning about career opportunities involving math and science.

The AAUW programs strive to show girls that math and science can be fun, as well as challenging.

This year's "Expanding Your Horizons" conference will be held 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Saturday, April 5 at The Rice School/La Escuela Rice, 7550 Seuss Drive, in southwest Houston. Lunch will be served.

There is no registration the day of the event, so students, parents and teachers are encouraged to fill out registration forms available from their math and science teachers.

"We want the girls to see role models in the fields of math and science," said Margaret Carlson, AAUW member and one of the project organizers. "We want them to hear these women talk about how they established their careers. We also want them to hear the message that education is important -- and that it's important to stay with it."

Co-sponsoring the event is the Center for Research on Parallel Computation. Each year the CRPC provides financial support for students and teachers to attend the conference. The CRPC is one of 25 National Science Foundation Science and Technology Centers, and it is headquartered at Rice University.

This year's conference features anchorwoman Elma Berrera [sic] of KTRK-TV Channel 13 as keynote speaker and scores of sessions from which to choose. Among the topics for selection are "Chicken Pox and Mono 101 - Your Favorite Diseases and More Under the Microscope," "Pots, Pipes and Playgrounds: How Plastics are Made," a session on seismic imaging methods called "Phones: A Great Party Line" and a presentation on chiropractic careers called "No Bones About It."

Jill Bailler, a science teacher at Jane Long Middle School, is completing her doctoral research in gender bias in the areas of math and science. She will speak to parents and teachers on the topic, "Reducing Gender Bias" while the girls are receiving hands on experience in four sessions of their choice.

"In many cases, the teacher often unknowingly discourages female students because of the aggressiveness of male students," Bailler said. "For example, if the boys are particularly active, waving their hands and answering out loud when the teacher asks a question, the teacher often is drawn to the area of activity to maintain control. When the boys gain the teacher's attention, the female students, often less aggressive, will quietly detach from the lesson."

Bailler's research indicates that stereotypes and attitudes that once discouraged female students from pursuing studies in higher math and science no longer are present.

In some cases, girls believe it is expected to say, "Eek, a snake!" or "Ugh, a frog," Bailler said. But when they are in an all-girl group, there are no expected behaviors other than performing the task at hand.

Last year 59 schools from 17 different public and private school districts were represented at the conference. The cost for the program and lunch is $6. Scholarships are available from the Center for Parallel Computations at Rice [sic].

"We have had wonderful support from the schools and parents alike," Carlson said. "Some school districts provide buses to bring teachers and their students to the program."

One teacher wrote in a program evaluation, "Thank you for making this program available and providing the girls with so many outstanding female role models in the math and science fields. In some cases, the conversations the girls had with the presenters would never take place in their own homes. By attending this program, they have had a chance to explore more options available to them."

Another teacher observed, "The program was outstanding. Going home on the bus, the girls were excited about what they had seen and heard. Some talked about how they were going to work to get scholarships so they could go to college and become engineers. Others said they were seriously thinking about careers in medicine."

Bethany Morehouse, a ninth-grade student at The Kincaid School, has attended "Expanding Your Horizons" for three years. She plans to become a physician.

"Attending the various classes provided us with an insider's view of what to expect," she said. "And, attending classes of all girls made it easier to answer questions and to speak in the classes."

The conference will conclude with drawings and door prizes, including tickets to the Museum of Natural Science and tuition to Sea Camp.

For more information and registration forms, contact the AAUW/EYH, West Harris County Branch at P. 0. Box 821125, Houston, Texas 77282-1125.

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