What do you want to be when you grow up?

By Jackie Flaten

Growing up in the 1970s in a traditional small town I heard, over the howling North Dakota wind, the tantalizing phrase “Women’s Lib.” You don’t hear this anymore because the terminology is considered old-fashioned, embarrassing even. Probably because the words were usually spoken in a tone of disparagement with lots of eye rolling involved.

But, back then, I GOT it. It meant simply enough that girls can be whatever they want. It was now against the law to say: “That’s a boy’s job, you can’t do that!” (That was my admittedly limited understanding of jurisprudence at the time.)

In the intervening decades, girls have grown up with the understanding that the world is their oyster and they can pursue any career that interests them. Women are now represented in professions across the board, but there is still a serious lag in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers.

Although it’s been proven time and again that there are absolutely no gender differences in math and science abilities, somewhere in middle school girls began to lose interest or have doubts. To be competitive, innovative and creative in the sciences, the United States needs bright young people of both sexes contributing their brainpower to the world’s many vexing problems.

We are incredibly fortunate here in the Bay Area to have the Expanding Your Horizons (EYH) Network programs that encourage young women to pursue STEM careers. Founded by San Francisco Bay Area women scientists in 1974, the EYH Network coordinates more than 86 hands-on math and science conferences in 33 states, as well as Thailand, China, Singapore, Malaysia, Brussels and Geneva each year.

Nearly 800,000 young women have participated in EYH conferences since its origins, and many participants are now professional women scientists working in chemical and civil engineering at places like the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory,  Network Appliances and Elan Pharmaceuticals.

Next week the National Science Board will present the Expanding Your Horizon Network with its highly prestigious 2010 Public Service Award as an organization that has made significant contributions and impact in public understanding of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The award ceremony will take place at the U.S. State Department in Washington D.C. on May 4, 2010.

Congratulations to the EYH Network, all of the amazing, inspiring role models who are sharing their time and expertise, and the young women, tomorrow’s leaders, who are participating in the EYH Network conferences. Actions speak louder than words. Learn more about this influential organization here:  http://www.expandingyourhorizons.org/

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