HED: High school girls urged to pursue math and science skills

HED: High school girls urged to pursue math and science skills

By Marty Russell

Daily Journal

Janet Westmoreland is a tool and die major at Itawamba Community College.

It’s not a traditional career choice for a woman, she would admit, but she’s enjoying it.

“For one thing, the pay is good,” Westmoreland said. “And I think it’s an interesting field.”

Westmoreland was among those attempting to inspire more than 300 female high school students from Northeast Mississippi to pursue careers in science and technology at ICC’s annual Women in Science and Technology Conference. The conference, held each year since 1984, took place Thursday on the school’s Tupelo campus.

“We want to challenge these students to expand their options and their horizons,” said Audrey Kinard, coordinator of ICC’s Equity Program.

Kinard said female students are chosen to participate in the annual conference by their schools.

“We ask them to select students from math and science classes who have an aptitude and an interest in it,” she said. “Tech Prep has helped by letting us cross-reference academics and technology.”

Tech Prep is a state initiative designed to improve student performance by gelling basic factual knowledge with hands-on learning, particularly in the areas of math and science.

The keynote speaker for Thursday’s conference was Dr. Cynthia Wilkins, an algebra teacher at Northwest Attendance Center in Rankin County and winner of the 1993 Presidential Scholar award in math and a 1995 Milken Educator award winner.

Wilkins urged the students not to take the easy path to a high school or college degree by avoiding math courses.

“For every math course you take after the ninth grade, your income will be $2,000 a year higher,” Wilkins said studies have shown among women.

Unfortunately, however, she said very few women pursue courses in math and science beyond those required after junior high school.

“Girls outnumber guys for nine years,” Wilkins said of elective math and science courses prior to high school. “So how come there are no girls there in the senior year?”

To counter the notion that science and technology are cold and logical, Wilkins challenged the students, each with a single index card, to a simple test: Design a device using the card which, when released, would achieve horizontal and vertical motion.

“I found this on the Internet and it said you should work on it for 20 or 30 minutes,” Wilkins said after walking up and down the aisles as the students pondered the problem. “But I saw several groups out there who solved it in less than six minutes.”

The answer? Simply hold the index card slightly bent between the thumb and fingers and let it fly.

“Now why is that a math problem?” she challenged the girls to consider.

After the opening session of the conference, the students broke up into smaller groups for panel discussions on topics such as computer technology, health technology and engineering. Ormella Cummings, career services counselor at North Mississippi Medical Center, was the featured luncheon speaker.

“You set the terms that will carry you through the rest of your life,” Wilkins said in closing the opening session. “If you set those terms high, then nothing can stop you from reaching your goals.”

Click video to hear audio