Workshop Leaders Hope to Inspire Girls to Pursue Careers in Science

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Workshop Leaders Hope to Inspire Girls to Pursue Careers in Science

Source: Houston Chronicle, April 5, 1997
By T.J. Milling

The pre-teen girls giggled and groaned as they poked at their science project with razor blades.

"I thought it was just pus inside,"said 11-year-old Carla Elder of the cow eyeball the girls were dissecting as part of the Expanding Your Horizons in Math and Science Conference Saturday. "That's what my brother told me."

"I had no idea all of this stuff was inside," 12-year-old Betsy Young said while fingering the lens. "Oh my gosh, it's hard. It's like one of those Advil gel tablets."

The intense little scientists-for-a-day scooped out the vitreous humor, which is the gooey center of the eye, and looked at the retina and other structures. But when asked what they wanted to be when they grew up, they chorused, "I wanna be a lawyer."

This was the sort of challenge women science professionals faced when they addressed 600 girls in grades 6 through 8 about careers in the sciences. Saturday was the 5th annual gathering aimed at swaying them toward more technical jobs where women are under-represented.

"It's important because it gives girls an opportunity to realize that math and science is for them,"conference spokeswoman Arlene Baker said. "It's not just for boys."

About 100 professionals addressed the girls on topics ranging from biology to ecology to bovine ocular morphology, the latter being cow eyeball structure.

"I'm interested in science literacy, and this is the age to start," said 30-year-old Irmgard Willcockson, a Baylor College of Medicine graduate student, who brought the eyes.

Willcockson said scientists have a vested interest in teaching the young because even those who don't pursue scientific careers could be in a position to make funding decisions.

"I want all my colleagues to have jobs," she said.

The classes ran from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at The Rice School/La Escuela Rice, 7550 Seuss Drive. The event was sponsored by the West Harris County Branch of the American Association of University Women and the Rice University School of Mathematics Project. Expanding Your Horizons is a part of a program that has reached 400,000 students in the United States and Canada since 1979, according to its literature.

The girls can choose any four of the classes with names like "The Sky's Not the Limit," which was about meteorology, or "The Ether Bunny, Sleeping Beauty and the Sandman," which was about anesthesiology.

"Leaping Lizards," an ecology class was particularly popular, thanks to Ziggy and Killi, a couple of 5-year-old iguanas.

"They're really smart," environmental activist Christine M. Thompson said to her rapt audience. "They're really clean, and they're vegetarians."

Thompson used the two lizards as the centerpiece of a talk about saving the rain forest.

"Destroying the rain forest is like pulling the lungs out of the planet,"she said.

The students seemed interested by the topics, but as 14-year-old former attendee Amy Gabriel said, "you just can't fit it all in one day."And organizers are realistic about their goals.

"This builds self-esteem," Baker said. "Girls who do better in math and science have better self-esteem, even if they don't choose it as a career."