Yes, girls can do math & science


Girls in two Emporia State programs learn about becoming scientists and mathematicians

By Elizabeth McLain


MASTER-IT studentsThese days it’s pretty common for girls to see portrayals of female professionals. There are TV women who are doctors, forensic scientists, engineers and mathematicians. But, sadly, it is rare that young girls get the opportunity to meet women actually working in these fields.

However, there are two programs at ESU that do give girls the opportunity to learn from female professionals who are actually working in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

“It’s important for young women to have role models in those fields, says Dr. Betsy Yanik, professor of mathematics.

Yanik and another mathematics professor, Dr. Marvin Harrell, are faculty directors for Expanding Your Horizons (EYH) and Mathematics and Science to Explore Careers: Investigating Together (MASTER IT). These programs encourage middle school girls to pursue interests in the STEM fields.

Harrell says, “Given that females often tend to get better grades in these areas, it’s kind of strange that more of them do not continue in careers related to mathematics and the sciences. We can encourage them with programs like EYH and MASTER IT.”

Marvin Harrell & Betsy Yanik

EYH has been in existence since 1994 and each year hosts more than 220 girls, grades 6 – 8, and their adult sponsors. The day-long conference takes place in March and gives the girls the opportunity to explore STEM careers alongside women actually working in the fields. The conference features recognized professionals who speak about their work. The girls also attend career discussions in the morning and hands-on sessions in the afternoon. Hands-on workshops include anything from building your own roller coaster to exploring a crime scene.

Adult sponsors can also attend presentations and the afternoon workshops, but they are not allowed to attend with their own student. Yanik and Harrell agree that it is important for the girls to explore these fields on their own. This program allows the students to make informed decisions about which areas they want to pursue. It also gives the adults a chance to experience the workshops on their own.

MASTER IT is an intensive five-day residential program that hosts up to 24 young women each summer. The program is for girls who have completed seventh or eighth grade and who express a serious interest in exploring STEM fields.

The program goes far beyond presentations and discussions, however.

As Harrell points out, “They can talk about things in which they are interested with someone who actually does that for a living while also getting hands-on experience.” In the past, the girls have taken trips to the Kansas Cosmosphere, spent an evening stargazing, gone fossil hunting, participated in problem-solving math workshops and been on field trips with biologists to collect samples.

EYH and MASTER IT are instrumental in encouraging young women to pursue their interest in STEM fields. “It’s difficult to suddenly decide to become an engineer or a scientist since these subject areas build upon themselves,” says Yanik. “It is crucial at this young age that girls are motivated and encouraged to stay in math and science so they have that background.”

It is motivation and encouragement that will shape these young women as they make the move from watching female professionals on TV to becoming role models themselves.

Elizabeth McLain is Recruitment and Grant Specialist in ESU’s Graduate School. This story is a condensed version of one that first appeared in Quest, the research magazine for Emporia State University, and is used with permission.