Department of Counseling & Guidance
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Conference to showcase women in math and science careers
Participants to explore math, science careers
Monday, February 27, 2012
By Adrienne Wigdortz Anderso
It was only recently that a T-shirt with the message "Allergic to Algebra" was marketed to young girls.
Studies, however, show that girls are just as capable as boys in math and science. Even so, females seem less likely to pursue a career in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. Experts think the trend could be reversed, and cultural attitudes changed, by encouraging and mentoring girls and educating them about job options.
Brighter Horizons, a half-day conference for fifth- to ninth-graders, will put these strategies into action. The event, open to boys and girls, is organized by local chapters of the American Association of University Women in partnership with the California Lutheran University School of Education and the city of Thousand Oaks. The event will be at the university March 10.
Participants will explore a wide range of careers through hands-on workshops led by women scientists and mathematicians representing areas as diverse as astronomy, accounting and zoology.
"The leaders are not only role models, they also break stereotypes. It's important for girls and boys to see women in these professions," said Betty Nordahl, a chemist turned computer scientist who is chairwoman of the event and a member of the AAUW-Thousand Oaks.
Nordahl said the facilitators have created fun, age-appropriate activities aimed to spark an interest in STEM subjects. This age group is specifically targeted because it is when "students begin to think about career choices and the classes they will need," Nordahl said.
AAUW-Thousand Oaks sponsored its first career day in 1993, and it was limited to girls in the area. West Ventura County AAUW branches held similar events. Their resources were combined in 2000 to present one event open to all students throughout Ventura County. The program, now held biennially, has grown to allow 780 students to register for three workshops chosen from a list of 32.
Students will be able to make asphalt cookies in "Discover Engineering," touch a real brain in "Project Brainstorm," and use technology when "Solving Crime with Forensic Science."
In 2004 and 2006, Samantha Lux, of Thousand Oaks, attended workshops on veterinary science, engineering and physics. The 18-year-old is currently a freshman at Johns Hopkins University majoring in molecular biology.
"I already liked science, but the workshops reinforced my interest and showed me that women can be successful in science careers," she said.
It's been more than a decade since Helen Bui, of Camarillo, was a ninth-grader whose school counselor suggested she sign up for the conference. Now a pharmacist in Oxnard, Bui contacted Brighter Horizons offering to lead a workshop.
"It's my way of saying 'thank you' for steering me toward a career in science," Bui said.
Her session, "Pharmacy — It's Not All About Pills," is part of this year's program.
"I can now teach others what was taught me years ago," she said.
Bui believes that if young people dream big and work hard, they will have better career choices that can lead to financial independence and job satisfaction. And, the world too, would benefit.
"It's the inventors, engineers and scientists who will advance us forward in this century and beyond," she said.