TARRYTOWN, N.Y. — For most young people, summer camp means canoes, horseback riding and mosquito bites. Not so for 20 high-school girls from the New York metropolitan area, who will spend two weeks away from home learning about DNA technology, finding math patterns in tile art at the Met, visiting a forensic laboratory and hearing about career challenges from women scientists.
During the Summer Math and Science Workshop at Marymount College of Fordham University, held June 22 to July 5, girls come to the college for a program designed to foster excitement in math, science and technology — fields where the dearth of women remains noticeable. “Studies show that men and women are equally talented in the areas of math and science,” said Maryam Hastings, Ph.D., director of the program. “It’s attitude that makes the difference in their achievement.”
Since 1992, the Summer Math and Science Workshop has strived to change the attitude of young girls toward the sciences. That same year, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) published the study “How Schools Shortchange Girls.” The report showed that girls were less likely than boys to take the most advanced courses in math and science and that even girls who did well in math and science were less likely to pursue careers in that area. The AAUW’s 1998 follow up, “Gender Gaps: Where Schools Still Fail Our Children,” indicated that while girls’ test scores and enrollments had risen in math and science, a gap persisted. The gender disparity remained especially wide in the areas of physics and computer science. Schools, according to the AAUW, are generally failing to fully prepare girls for the 21st century.
Many believe the gap begins in high school, and follows young women to college and careers. Today, studies show that women make up only 23 percent of physical scientists and 10 percent of engineers.
“We get the sense from the young women who have participated in the program that they have a change in attitude after the workshop, a gain in confidence,” said Hastings. “For many of them, it’s the first time that they’ve had an opportunity to achieve in science and math and enjoy it.”
The workshop complements the mission of the women’s Catholic college, which for 95 years has provided a place of learning where women can grow and discover their voices. Administrators at Fordham Univer-sity are also working to encourage women in the sciences and math. At Fordham College at Rose Hill and at Lincoln Center, young women identified as having a great potential for professional achievements in these areas are eligible for scholarships during their undergraduate years though the Clare Boothe Luce Program for Women in Science and Math.
Hastings said she hopes the program meets the long-term needs not only of the young women who participate but, ultimately, all women. “It is important to encourage young girls to study math and science not only to enhance their career options,” she said, “but also because when women are included in the development of math and science, the majority view will finally be heard.”