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April 2, 2013 > HerWorld event encourages women in technology

HerWorld event encourages women in technology

By Steve Taylor

Only about half of the population is working to solve the big problems in science, and that is not OK with everyone involved in "HerWorld 2013." Males dominate few fields today, but aerospace and technology remain a "boys club." After 408 female high school Juniors and Seniors attending the March 27th event at the NASA Aames Research Center at Moffett Field were through with their tours and training, that could change soon.

More than a few young ladies from the 13 selected high schools stretching from Watsonville to Oakland left the sessions energized and ready to learn more about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Milpitas, Newark Memorial, Heyward, and Tennyson High schools were all represented by 45 female students each, the maximum invited from each school.

For the past nine years, Bay Area "HerWorld" annual expo has been sponsored by Devry University, Fremont campus, with the last three years held at active research sites. Careers in STEM are projected to grow seven percent faster than non-STEM occupations through 2018. Yet, the number of students enrolling in college in STEM-related degree programs is dropping, leaving a potential gap between in-demand STEM jobs and skilled professionals to fill them.

To help close that gap, DeVry University launched its STEM-Ready initiative to introduce more high school students, especially females, to STEM. HerWorld 2013 included in-depth tours of the NASA facilities and hands-on training developing improved manned Mars landing vehicles designs, for example. Wait, ...manned? HerWorld might want another word for those missions.

When a group of young ladies from Newark Memorial High experimenting with methods to keep a simulated "astronaut" (golfball) from being ejected during atmospheric re-entry were asked if they wanted to be scientists, none raised a hand. When asked about their future plans, Rhicka, 17, said she wanted to be an architect. Alyssa, also 17, said she wanted to be a Registered Nurse. Teachers reading this are certainly screaming, "Those ARE sciences!" demonstrating just how far we are from showing young people the real scope of science.

Keynote speaker Deborah Feng, Associate Center Director, Mission Support at NASA AMES Research Center discussed women's success and potential in STEM related programs. Local science teacher, Susan Reneberg from Tennyson High, said she works hard to expose all her students, especially the girls, to science. "Every student has to find a science related professional and do a job shadow and turn in a report on the experience," Reneberg says. The tenured life sciences teacher, working at the same site since 1997, says she has fostered the love of science in "quite a few" female students who later went onto careers in the field.

Wayne Anthony, Director of Public Outreach at DeVry's Fremont campus and event organizer was cagey about 2014's Herworld expo's location but allowed, "It will be in the newest museum in the Bay Area."

Savvy lady sophomores and juniors should talk to their science teachers now and reserve a spot at next year's HerWorld. Solutions to tomorrow's problems depend on you!

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