Summit educates leaders to encourage more females to enter science, math-related fields

By: ISU Communications and Marketing Staff, ISU Communications and Marketing Staff
September 30, 2010

When Lynn Cline started at NASA in the 1970s, she quickly learned that she needed to invest in business suits "because otherwise, everybody assumed if you were a female in NASA headquarters and young, then you must be a secretary."

While she has seen the conditions change through the years, she was at Indiana State University on Thursday in an effort to improve the situation more.

Cline was the keynote speaker at a daylong summit at the John T. Myers Technology Center. The summit, called "Where are the Girls: STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Education and Careers," educated attendants about opportunities available to help create interest among girls and young women about careers in the math and science-related fields. The ultimate goal is to get more females to enter those fields, said Bev Bitzegaio, who helped organize the event and is director of outreach and student career services for the College of Technology at ISU.

"This impacts everybody because science, technology, engineering and math fields are important to society in general," Bitzegaio said, so we're trying to get people to work together to make sure girls and women know what opportunities are available in those areas.

Several ISU students also joined in the presentations. Junior Megan Jackson, who is president of the Females in Technology group at ISU, and freshman Molly Joseph gave attendants the assignment of using cell phones to create ideas to generate interest among girls and young women in math and science-related fields. Several groups suggested using GPS to create scavenger hunts to specific locations, and one group even created a phone ringtone.

"Getting girls interested in STEM, the thing we learned today, there is an app for that," Jackson said as the audience laughed.

Women are underrepresented in a variety of careers in the STEM-related fields, said Bradford Sims, dean of the College of Technology at ISU. He also told the audience during his introductory speech that, in the technology fields that he knows best, women can still obtain very high job placement with good starting salaries, even in a slow economy.

Things have not yet improved enough, said Anneliese Payne, associate professor in the department of education and director of the Master's in Education program at St. Mary-of-the-Woods College. She attended the summit to network.

She said that, for her dissertation, she spoke with 30 female scientists about the obstacles they encountered, and what made them decide to pursue a career in science.

"And I still meet women who are in science that are younger and recently finished schooling, and they still tell me that they have run into obstacles that they had to overcome in order to pursue a career in science," Payne said.

During her speech, Cline highlighted a variety of myths, including one about girls' lack of interest in math and science. She cited research that found that, of fourth grade students, 66 percent of girls and 68 percent of boys liked science.

She also highlighted women in prominent positions with NASA, which includes the organization's deputy administrator, chief financial officer and chief information officer, among others.

"It's very nice now to see the number of women in senior executive positions at NASA," Cline told the audience before highlighting women in different positions.

The summit included a panel that discussed funding opportunities that were available for projects, and discussions about how to create plans to encourage girls and young women to become interested in STEM fields.

Cline suggested that internships, competitions and mentoring were among the different ways to help create interest among females.

"We want to leave them inspired," Cline said as she finished her presentation. "We want them to dream big, and we want them to love what they do."

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Events/Where-Are-the-Girls-Conference/DSC8927GirlsInScience/1028703108_D7uE8-L.jpg (ISU/Kara Berchem)

Lynn Cline, who started working at NASA in the 1970s, gives the keynote speech at the "Where Are the Girls" summit Thursday.

Contact: Bev Bitzegaio, director of outreach and student career services, College of Technology, Indiana State University, 812-237-3775 or bev.bitzegaio@indstate.edu

Writer: Austin Arceo, assistant director of media relations, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or austin.arceo-negrich@indstate.edu