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Smith College Science Educator Offers Tips For Keeping Kids -- Especially Girls -- Curious and Confident in Science and Technology

Despite gains over the last decade, fewer girls than boys take advanced math and science courses in high school and college. Not surprisingly, this "science gap" continues in the professional world, where only 18 to 25 percent of all scientists, and 9 to 10 percent of engineers, are women.

"Parents shouldn't wait for high school to awaken their children, particularly their daughters, to opportunities in science," cautions Smith College's Gail Scordilis. "For most girls, who have gotten 'anti-science' messages early on, that's much too late."

Instead, Scordilis urges, take any opportunity you can to supplement what may be lacking in your daughter's formal education. Summer is an ideal time to start. To make the most of summer as a science incubator, Scordilis offers parents the following tips, based on her longtime experience directing Smith's Summer Science and Engineering Program for high school girls.

1. TRY SOMETHING NEW. When considering summer science course work, encourage your daughter to explore areas she has traditionally shied away from. "Without the pressure of grades or exams, summer learning can, and should, be risk-free," Scordilis explains. "It's the best possible time to explore interests and talents without stress."

2. FIND A LINK. Whatever summer activity you seek for your daughter, make sure it is relevant to her interests. "Start by considering the issues your daughter cares about," Scordilis suggests. "A teenage girl might not necessarily jump at the chance to meet an engineer, but she might be persuaded to take a course taught by an advocate for environmental protection or a researcher involved in body image issues. In the process, she could discover a budding interest in environmental engineering or adolescent medicine."

3. KEEP IT SOCIAL. Be wary of stereotypes suggesting that scientists work in isolation. "Friendships and peer relationships are important to girls, and need not be sacrificed to science," Scordilis observes. She advises parents to look for organizations in their communities, such as Girl Scouts or Girls Inc., that bring girls together around science activities. Local libraries and museums also have programs related to girls and science. "If you can't find any organized group to join, consider starting your own summer science club for your daughter and her friends."

4. SEEK PEERS AS ROLE MODELS. When seeking role models to support your daughter's interests in science and technology, remember that someone who is closest to her in age and experience will be the most effective. "Although the senior woman scientist at your local university may have an impressive résumé," Scordilis cautions, "a college student majoring in science or engineering is much easier to relate to and has the information and insights that your daughter is most curious about."

5. ENCOURAGE A THINKING JOB. If your daughter is looking for summer employment, encourage her to seek a job that is a learning opportunity. Many science and technology companies, college and university laboratories and hospitals offer internships-and many of them are paid.

6. SURF ­ INDOORS AND OUT. A visit to the beach presents many opportunities for scientific fun (identifying shells, going on a whale watch, visiting an oceanographic institute, to name just a few.) But a rainy day at home can also be fruitful, thanks to an increasing number of Web sites featuring science and technology activities aimed at girls. Scordilis highlights the following standouts: for girls' perspectives on teen medical issues; for 'Engineering Girl!' activities and information; and for information on museum science programs around the world.

7. CHECK OUT COLLEGE PROGRAMS. If your daughter is ready for a residential experience away from home, consider a summer enrichment program. Like Smith College, a growing number of colleges and universities offer outreach programs in science and technology specifically for girls. These programs offer opportunities for girls to meet wonderful friends from around the country and around the world who share their interests, as well as provide access to college faculty and advanced science and technology resources.

8. SHOP AROUND. Don't be discouraged by the cost of many summer programs. Many offer generous financial aid packages. A great place to search for programs is at, which features a comprehensive listing of "Summer Opportunities for Kids and Teenagers." Do your homework, and apply early to enhance your chances for securing financial support.

Most importantly, Scordilis advises, "Don't go overboard. The point is to ease off and allow your daughter the luxury of exploring her interests, in depth, without the pressures of school."

Parents who keep science enrichment relevant, fun and social, Scordilis predicts, "are likely to be pleasantly surprised by where their daughter's mind takes her."
Smith College is consistently ranked among the nation's foremost liberal arts colleges.

Enrolling 2,800 students from every state and 50 other countries, Smith is the largest undergraduate women's college in the United States. The Smith Summer Science and Engineering program for high school girls [], now in its tenth year, takes place July 1 ­ 28, 2001.

Contact: Laurie Fenlason,

May 17, 2001


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