April 16, 2014

Conference aims to hook girls on science, math

Ruth Bennett, Michele McSorely and Morgan McSorley
Robert Barker/University Photography
Kailei Pagcaliwagan, with her mother Heather, left, and Erin Larson, a graduate student in the field of ecology and evolutionary biology, participate in the workshop Marine Biology: From Whales to Snails at Cascadilla Creek.

Think of prominent men in science: Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein and Charles Darwin are a few that come to mind. But what about notable women in science? Names like Jane Goodall, Rosalind Franklin and Rachel Carson disprove the myth of gender constraints on science.

In a forum to demonstrate that women have the opportunity to play a meaningful role in the future of science, 31 graduate student committee chairs at Cornell organized the Expanding Your Horizons Conference April 12 in the Physical Sciences Building. The seventh-, eighth- and ninth-grade female students participating came from upstate New York and as far away as Maine.

The goals of the conference were to stimulate interest in math and science through hands on activities, provide female scientist role models and foster awareness of opportunities in math- and science-related fields. Many girls participated in three workshops organized by Cornell students and faculty, while ninth-graders participated in two extended workshops.

Ashley Lloyd, a graduate student in the field of materials science who volunteered at the event, reflected on her experience as a middle school student attending a similar event: “I remember it being a really awesome and cool experience. I remember having a [graduate student] buddy when I attended the program, and I thought she was the coolest person. … Now I get to be the coolest person.”

Conference keynote speaker, Syracuse University’s earth scientist Laura Lautz, advocated for the earth sciences as an opportunity for exploration: “One of the best things about being an earth scientist is that you get to travel the world. I [have] traveled to every single continent on the planet.”

Conference chair Maria Carrizales, a researcher in Cornell’s Department of Plant Breeding and Genetics, said, “I was incredibly inspired by my teachers.  Research has shown that middle school is when girls move away from the sciences and go to other fields. This is the last opportunity to get them excited about science. We’re trying to dispel the rumor that men are naturally better at science and math.”

The conference provided workshops on such topics as “alchemy 101,” marine biology, physics of bubbles and neuroscience. Other highlights included a display of science books, resources and games that parents and participants could access throughout the day.

Sponsors included the Cornell Laboratory for Accelerator-based Sciences and Education, the Cornell Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, the Cornell Women's Resource Center, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the Cornell Department of Computer Science and Diversity Programs in Engineering.

Scott Goldberg ’16 is a writer intern for the Cornell Chronicle.