Only 22 percent of all American scientists are female, and women make up only 9 percent of engineers. Studies show that the interest girls have in math and science equals that of boys in elementary school but declines sharply by the time girls leave middle school.
A panel of six female scientists and engineers from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., will try to narrow this gap on Sunday, Jan. 13 during a live broadcast and webcast. The women will discuss the paths they pursued and the challenges they faced to achieve science-related careers. Approximately 100 middle school and high school-aged girls will take part in the discussion, and others nationwide are invited to join in remotely.
This talk-show-formatted session was born as a way to connect the scientists and engineers at JPL with girls in the Techbridge program at the Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland, Calif. The webcast soon evolved into a far-reaching effort extending to local students and the public.
"We realize that this science gap exists all over the country and for that matter, the world," said Stephenie Lievense of the Mars Public Outreach team at JPL. "We want girls to see all the opportunities that are available to them. One way to do that is to provide them with access to these role models. Girls are sincerely interested in technology, but often have little or no access to female scientists and engineers."
"This event gives me an opportunity to show these girls that engineers are more than the pocket-protector, calculator-carrying individuals depicted on screen; that nerd is a good term, and that science, though challenging, is fulfilling," said Dr. Ayanna Howard, robotics research engineer at JPL.
The issue of encouraging more young women to enter the science and engineering fields is getting wider attention. The current issue of the Girl Scouts of America "Leader" magazine devotes its entire issue to girls and technology. In that issue, three JPL women speak about what influenced them to pursue a career with NASA.
The public is invited to watch the event on NASA Television or on the Web during a live broadcast and webcast on Sunday, Jan. 13, from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Pacific Standard Time (8:30 to 9:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time).
The webcast can be accessed at: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/webcast/womeninscience.html.
The session will be moderated, with questions taken in advance from the public on the JPL homepage at www.jpl.nasa.gov and that day from a live audience in JPL's von Karman Auditorium. Students at the Chabot Space and Science Center's Techbridge program will also ask questions remotely on the phone. Two students from the program will be present in the auditorium to ask questions on behalf of their fellow classmates.
The Techbridge program goal is to increase the girls' confidence in using technology and to spark creative problem solving. The JPL Mars Public Engagement and Technology Outreach teams provided funding for this event.
The California Institute of Technology in Pasadena manages JPL for NASA. JPL is the lead U.S. center for robotic exploration of the solar system.