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Encouraging a Love of Science in Girls and Young Women[Part_2]

On this edition of Sense of Community, we'll examine ways that public schools and universities are nurturing a love for science in girls and young women. KSMU's Missy Shelton reports.

In early 2005 when Lawrence Summers was still president of Harvard University, he asserted that innate differences between men and women could explain why fewer women pursue scientific careers.

It's been nearly two years since Summers made those comments but even today they seem unbelievable to women scientists at Missouri State University.

Janice Greene is Professor of Biology and Director of the Bull Shoals Field Station.

Greene says she feels women who teach and do scientific research at Missouri State University are treated the same as their male counterparts.

Greene says over the years, she's only had a few negative comments related to her gender.

How girls picture themselves becomes especially important in middle school.

Greene is involved with an annual program at Missouri State University called Expanding Your Horizons. The program began in 1994 as a way to encourage a love of science in middle school girls.

Tammy Jahnke is Dean of the College of Natural and Applied Sciences and is also involved with the middle school science program for girls.

She says she's seen how having boys around impacts the way girls react to scientific experiments.

Olivia Simpson teaches 7th grade science at Carver Middle School in Springfield.

As is usually the case in public schools, boys and girls are together in academic classes.

Simpson says when she was younger, she attended a private all-girls school and saw the benefits of educating girls and boys separately.

With girls usually developing more quickly than boys, Simpson says there's potential for increased distraction but also potential for increased learning.

So what do middle school girls say about having boys in the classroom? We sampled some of the students in Olivia Carver's 7th grade science class...and one girl, 12-year-old Kyla Jolley admits that boys can be distracting.

And what do middle school boys have to say about the girls in their science class?

To capitalize on the learning potential of girls and boys in middle school, teachers like Olivia Simpson say they have to engage the students.

And the students seem to respond when Simpson makes class interesting with experiments.

Seventh grader Kyla Jolley describes her favorite experiment.

Experiments make science fun for 7th grader Sarah Lee.

Thirteen-year-old Sabrina Dupree recalls an experiment with earthworms.

So if girls who have a love of science are nurtured and eventually decide to pursue a career in science, they may find themselves in the minority especially in certain fields.

Consider Emma Farris, a senior at Kickapoo High School.

As more young women choose to pursue advanced degrees in physics, there's a push at universities to ensure that women are represented in the ranks of the faculty.

Tammy Jahnke is Dean of the College of Natural and Applied Sciences at Missouri State University.

Jahnke says women have made many strides over the years...But she says much of their history is lost or forgotten because they had to work in secret, often with little or no recognition.

Jahnke says given the potential for future scientific discoveries, it's important that all students, regardless of their gender have opportunities and encouragement to excel.


  • Expanding Your Horizons at Missouri State: A Program for Girls in Science