Conference Shows Girls Math and Science Career Possibilities

Conference Shows Girls Math and Science Career Possibilities

On November 17, Midwestern State University will be invaded by 100 seventh and eighth grade girls, all here to learn about women who have made careers in fields traditionally held by men. Girls from Barwise, McNiel, Notre Dame, and Zundy junior high schools in Wichita Falls and from Archer City, Henrietta, Holliday, Muenster, and Petrolia will attend the Math, Science & U Girls' Conference where they will be introduced to job possibilities by professional women working in math, science, and technology.

This is the 12th year for the conference, headed by Computer Science Professor Catherine Stringfellow and Math Professor Michelle Knox. Even with more females entering college, Stringfellow and Knox say that it is common for young girls to believe boys are better in math and science subjects. "Girls still have a lack of confidence about this. That's why those professions are still dominated by males," Stringfellow said. "Many girls don't consider a career in those fields because the jobs have traditionally been held by men."

This year's theme is "Math & Science! It's a Girl Thing!" Guest speaker Kandyce Bohannon is a software engineer at 3M's display and graphics research lab in Austin, and an MSU alumna. The girls will take part in four workshops, each run by women who work in a math or science field. Workshop leaders will be Kathy Quashnock, chemist; Kristy Carlucci, program specialist at the Museum of Osteology in Oklahoma City; Asma Javed, Julie Doll, Ester Zavala, and Michelle Tarrant from United Regional Hospital's lab; and Jackie Dunn, Assistant Professor of Physics at MSU.

The workshops are geared to let the girls have some fun while seeing the science used by the professional women. Past workshops have been conducted by forensic scientists, meteorologists, geoscientists, computer science teachers, statisticians, mathematicians, fighter pilots, and a veterinarian. Some of the entertaining experiments the girls have performed include an egg drop to study physics, a crime scene evaluation, and drawing bones on feet. With the help of Information Technology, girls have even dismantled a computer and put it back together. The hands-on workshops also help the girls explore and interact with other students and teachers.

The conference started 16 years ago with the help of a faculty research grant. Computer Science Professor Ranette Halverson, Assistant Math Professor Marsha May, and Associate Math Professor Linda Fosnaugh wanted to find a way to keep seventh- and eighth-grade girls interested in math and science classes. Through Math, Science & U, young girls can talk to women who have made careers in those fields. "They see women who are doing these things," Stringfellow said. "This opens doors to what's out there in math, science and computer-related fields."

McNiel teacher Cheryl Nix has taken students to the conference for several years. "The math and science teachers at McNiel feel that this is a great way to show female students that science fields and careers are wide open for them to take advantage of," Nix said. She said that it helps for the girls to see women who have chosen one of these technical careers. "Some of these girls have never even heard or known that these career choices were available. This gives them firsthand experience to be able to talk to these women, ask questions, and visit with them about what they do at their job."

From all indications, the conference accomplishes its mission. "You can tell from hearing the girls talk that they're excited about what they've seen," Knox said. According to a pre-conference survey and one taken after the conference, 18 percent of the girls are more likely to want a career in math or science after attending. Nix also witnesses the girls' enthusiasm after the conference. She hears them talk about how "awesome" their day was, what fun they had doing all the experiments, and the excitement of winning door prizes and goody bags.

Another plus that Nix sees is that the conference shows the girls that learning doesn't end when they graduate from high school. "For some girls, it's the first time they have ever stepped into a college setting, which I think is great because it can spark an interest to want to go to college and pursue their education past high school." Female college students help with the conference and interact with the girls - another positive influence.

The girls have a positive influence on the faculty and volunteers, too. "The girls are energetic. They squeal and laugh. It's a fun day," Stringfellow said.

Lunch is furnished for the girls, and they all leave with a T-shirt and backpack with MSU goodies such as pens, pencils, and cups. Past door prizes have included a telescope and computer.