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Imagining the Next Einstein— as a GIRL


Our perceptions of scientists, even at the youngest of ages, usually include white lab coats, pocket protectors, crazy hair—and men. Try it yourself; ask your child to draw a scientist.

At the Girls, Math & Science Partnership, we’re focused on changing these perceptions—dramatically. Our mission is to engage, educate, and embrace girls as architects of change. By focusing on girls 11–17, a demographic that often falls in love with science and then out of love with it somewhere in middle school, our goal is to build a network of girls that just might change the world with math and science.

Why does it matter?

Embracing girls in the fields of math and science makes sense for two key reasons—one intellectual, the other economic.

Taking neurology into account, women’s minds are built differently than men’s—no real surprise to any of us, of course! Women, for instance, have a larger speech area and also have stronger connections between their left and right brain—making them more holistic thinkers. Men, on the other hand, have enhanced capacities with their spatial abilities. This means that, when a woman’s intellect is brought to bear in the science arena, she thinks in a different way than if “the lab” was full of men. Diverse thinking leads to better discoveries—and more innovative ones. New questions are also emerging about what role women’s emotional intelligence may play when it comes to math and science.

Now consider the larger picture. In southwestern Pennsylvania, by the end of this decade, 2.2 million jobs in science and technology need to be filled. But only 9% of women (compared to 26% of men) are pursuing degrees in these fields. Ironically, our regional economic revitalization is built on science and technology.

What’s happening here mirrors the situation nationally. Consequently, America is losing valuable ground to those countries that invest more systematically in building a science and technology workforce—especially among its female population.

Our visions are becoming more focused: To maintain global economic vibrancy, our government is currently undertaking a major initiative through U.S. Secretary Spellings’ Department of Education that will bring more professional role models into our classrooms. Secretary Spellings spoke in May at the first-ever National Summit on the Advancement of Girls in Math and Science, saying, “We're reaching out to bring professionals from the field into our classrooms...who better than [scientistst like] Sally Ride to show students what math and science can accomplish in the real world? Our country can't afford to lose half of our potential innovators, especially in this ever-flattening, iPod-loving, Tivo-watching world.”

What we’re doing

The Girls, Math & Science Partnership has a number of fun, creative programs aimed at moving the needle and improving the odds of girls pursuing math or science as a career.

BrainCake.org is an online sisterhood launched in March of 2005, and in only its first year it had more than two million hits. The site is built to encourage girls to express their opinions openly, learn about programs that build their knowledge, and build a supportive intergenerational network of females (mentors and kids alike) focused on science.

Girls on BrainCake.org don’t hesitate to talk openly about “being the only girl” in science and math. They are already aware, at this age, that they are a rarity. Many express a deeply resolute love of science. But many say they aren’t so sure about the subject.

In a recent poll, when asked about what kind of career they might choose—a chemist studying makeup? a mathematician solving environmental issues?—more than a quarter of the girls say “I’m not sure math and science are for me.” So, this online environment appears to have a broad appeal to girls of all capacities in science.

Click! was launched this summer. The only mixed-reality summer camp in the nation (part “Real World,” part “Charlie’s Angels”), Click! is geared to 11 – 14 year-old girls. Girls attending the first camp in Pittsburgh solved a biomedical mystery by taking on different roles and engaging in science activities, technology, and team-building. The camp culminated in the girls proposing their own solution to the mystery by searching the North Shore for clues, interviewing witnesses, and using digital cameras and cutting-edge technology including global positioning systems and a computer operating system designed only for Click! “agents.”

BrainCake and Click! are just at their earliest stages, and we have several more programs currently under development.

But we’re hopeful that—one program, one girl at a time—we can help more girls see themselves in those science lab coats, and see themselves in a position to change the world through math and science.

About GMSP: Born out of The Heinz Endowments 1998 study, Promising Futures, the Girls, Math & Science Partnership was created to address issues regarding girls, their participation in science, and the expansion of their influence on the regional workforce. In 1999, The Heinz Endowments began collaborating with the Alcoa Foundation and Family Communications, Inc., to incubate the partnership, establishing its commitment to scientific literacy projects that have long-term impact and ensure that women play a vital role in the region’s future. Carnegie Science Center is now providing the administrative oversight for the partnership and acting as a steward of its continuing mission.

For more information, contact Jennifer Stancil at stancilj@carnegiesciencecenter.org.

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