||Since Nobel Prizes were first awarded in 1901, there have been 802 male recipients and 40 female recipients. Broken down among the Sciences, the gender gap only widens – 500 men have won, compared to 15 women. Until this past decade, women comprised less than 10 percent of the National Academy of Sciences, generally regarded as the nation’s most eminent organization of scientists.
Against these odds, compounded by studies from the Harvard and Stanford education schools that confirmed girls’ tendency to disengage in science during their middle school years, Headmaster Frank J. Carnabuci III set out to do something. He decided to launch the “Women in Science Program” (WISP), a year-long series featuring a diverse panel of female scientists who will lead assemblies and classes for the Middle School.
“Our goal is to be at the forefront as a co-ed school,” says Mr. Carnabuci, “in leading the movement of enriching science opportunities for women, to keep young girls engaged in science, and to really express to girls the value of science.” Melissa Marotta, Associate Director of the Middle School and science teacher, is the program’s coordinator. “We want to look at what it is that makes girls lose interest in science ... and to empower our girls to feel like they can continue studying science,” she says.
Combined, the speakers will host 8 to 10 assemblies, some exclusively for Middle School, and some for Upper School as well. Then, they will visit individual Middle School science classes, divided between boys and girls. “If a speaker wants to instill in boys the sensitivity to girls in science, that may be better done with a group of boys. It’s important for boys also to hear what these women have experienced and why it’s important for women to be engaged,” says Mr. Carnabuci. “And if she wants to fortify a girl’s resolve to study science, that might be better done without a group of boys there raising their hands.” He adds, “This is not only the right thing to do for girls, but I think as a co-ed school, we have the responsibility to lead the way in this.”
Beyond the sensitivity and awareness this program will bring, there is also its practicality. “There are all kinds of amazing careers in the sciences,” Ms. Marotta says. “When I was in school, I thought you could either be a teacher, or be a doctor, or you could work in a lab. But there is so much you can do with a science degree.” Indeed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Environmental Consulting Services industry, which draws from biology and ecology backgrounds, is projected to be the fastest growing and one of the highest paying in the coming decade.
As WISP coordinator, Ms. Marotta’s aim is to “bring in women who are all over the map in terms of what they have done with their science degrees, just so the kids can know what’s out there.” In this, she has succeeded.
The students first met Felicity Aston, who worked on the British Antarctic Survey, lived in the Arctic for two years, and later organized and executed youth expeditions to the Arctic and the Andes. Next was Sharon Akabis, the Associate Director of the Institution of Nutrition at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University. Then,
Kecia Harris, a criminalist specializing in forensic DNA, came to talk about her work following the 9/11 catastrophe. Plans also call for visits from specialists in biochemistry, epidemiology, psychiatry, and veterinary medicine. As the speakers range from their early 20s into retirement age, students will also gain perspective on the evolution of women’s acceptance in science.
With its emphasis on deductive reasoning skills, its applications to daily life, and its importance toward creating global citizens, the Headmaster believes that the study of science has “limitless potential.” He adds, “Emphasizing science, either for a career, or an academic program, or simply for everyday use, will transform the world. And I think we have an obligation to our students to help them transform the world.”