Iowa State program designed to interest girls in the sciences

Adrienne Lamberti

The National Science Foundation recently awarded an $800,000 grant to

ISU’s Program for Women in Science and Engineering to encourage Iowa girls’

interest in these fields.

The three-year project will train leaders of local youth groups,

including 4-H and Girl Scouts, to develop workshops and projects in math,

science and engineering, said Krishna S. Athreya, one of the coordinators

of the project.

Girls often misconstrue these subjects to be inaccessible to them and

consequently exhibit little interest, Athreya said.

“I think a lot of it is media messages as well as baggage left over

from our past,” Athreya said. “There’s also a lot of misinformation about

what science and engineering careers entail. People don’t tend to think of

the economic repercussions of opting out of these careers.”

The project, directed by the Program for Women, will be implemented by

several youth organizations, including Extension Science Engineering and

Technology Youth Initiative, the Moingona Girl Scout Council in Des Moines,

the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in

Washington, D.C. and local 4-H chapters.

Youth Initiative Director Debbie Curry said she believes these groups

form an ideal structure in which to sponsor math and science activities.

“This is a great opportunity to make a larger impact,” she said. “We

already have a network of leaders in place who can use this


In an upcoming training workshop, “Girls and Science: Link Up With the

Future,” AAAS staff will instruct youth group leaders in presenting science

and technology workshops and making them easily accessible to their young


AAAS Associate Margaret E. Tunstall said that a critical aspect of this

training is prompting gender equity in the science and technology programs.

Youth leaders learn how to utilize community resources such as local women

scientists and mathematicians who can act as role models for girls.

Young girls are not the only ones bolstered by the project, however.

“The workshops raise the overall level of confidence in women leaders, who

generally are not scientists or mathematicians themselves, to lead

activities in these areas,” Tunstall said.

Athreya said girls in junior high school are especially prone to suffer

a loss of self-esteem and avoid topics in science and engineering. “They

really need the support at this time,” she said.

Evidence that these attitudes are changing, Athreya said, can be seen

in the increasing interest in the program’s career conferences, as well as

the growing enrollment in the university’s science and engineering


In her 20 years of service as a 4-H leader, Lenny Mangold witnessed a

similar change in girls’ interests when 4-H clubs became coed.

“In girls’ 4-H, one year we would have cooking, and then the next year

it would be sewing, and the next year home improvement, and then we’d start

over again,” Mangold said. “It was a very structured environment. Now most

clubs are coed and kids are doing all sorts of things in math and


As the project continues and workshops are presented to youth, results

will be submitted to the 4-H curriculum committee for use in nationwide 4-H


“We’re hoping that we will have changed what’s considered `natural’ for

girls to do,” Athreya said.

Copyright 1995 by the Iowa State Daily Publications Board. All rights reserved.

No redistribution without the express written consent of the Iowa State Daily Editor in Chief.