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Beth O’Sullivan and the Early Days of Science Club For Girls May 13, 2012

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by Jennifer Sims, Ph.D.

Martin Luther King Jr. Open School was more than ready for science clubs. In 1994, when Beth O’Sullivan picked up her daughter Rachel from kindergarten, she received a query from the principal to all parents looking for a focus and feedback group on gender equity issues in the classroom. “How Schools Shortchange Girls,” the seminal study by the American Association of University Women, had been published not two years earlier, putting numbers to what educators, administrators, and parents had been observing for years, despite themselves.

“It was almost obvious,” says Beth, who was already running a private math tutoring program and saw signs of inequity in girls even younger than those in the AAUW study.

“We have this tendency to say a child ‘just isn’t good at math.’ But we don’t accept, except on rare occasions, that a child can’t learn to read.”

Beth teamed up with fellow parent Mary McGowan develop the ideas of the feedback group into a workable, targeted plan. They envisioned an all-female afterschool program that spanned first to eighth grade, encouraged and enlivened the learning of science before middle school, brought girls together with women mentors, and most importantly, was free.

The lofty goals were matched as much by their ambition as by the long-held traditions of activism and outreach at the King Open School. More than twelve years earlier, Dr. Robert Moses had used his grant as a MacArthur Fellow to guarantee the teaching of algebra in eighth grade there, and to initiate the redesigning of the curriculum to include experiential learning — using subway trips and lemonade stands to demonstrate concepts. His program, The Algebra Project has since become a national phenomenon, helping over 9000 socio-economically underprivileged students make the leap into higher levels of math.

“Thanks to Bob Moses and his efforts, there was already an assumption that parents could initiate something,” says Beth of the climate at King Open at the time.

With no administrative resistance, and a veritable tide of initiative, Beth and Mary set about implementing program logistics and gathering resources. “That was, right away, a part of the design,” Beth says of the choice to make the Clubs be single-sex and girls-only. “There’s a lot of research and data out there about the effect that has on learning, but for us it was automatic and natural.” Presently, she calls the all-girl strategy, “the single most successful aspect of the Clubs,” citing the fruitful mentor structure as well as the morale boost to the students: “The girls feel it’s for them — that it’s special that way.” (more…)

Future engineer visits the 2012 USA Science and Engineering Festival May 10, 2012

Posted by Science Club for Girls in Guest Blog, Non-SCFG programs.
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SCFG parent Christina Horner was determined to provide her daughter with as many meaningful science and engineering experiences as possible. Here’s her kindergartener’s perpective of the trip.

The USA Science and Engineering Festival was incredible!

I went with my daddy, mommy, brothers and my cousin, Kyle.  There were many people and many activities, like filling balloons with oobleck and fizzy stuff (mom’s note: sulfurate acid and baking soda), making a cannon and building towers with blocks.

My favorite activity was building a Simon.  A Simon is a lot like Simon Says.  You have to follow the colors on a little computer that doesn’t talk.  It was easy.  I used a circuit board, plastic fasteners, gaskets, lights, screws solder and a soldering iron.  It was VERY hot! A soldering iron looks like a screw and a pen, but instead when you put it to metal smoke comes out.  It makes the metal become glue.

The finished product

I can’t wait to go again!


Immunologist, Linda Yang’s Letter to her Younger Self April 27, 2012

Posted by Science Club for Girls in Letter to Young Self, women in science.
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Linda Yang is a postdoctoral fellow at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.  While attending graduate school at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, she studied metabolic pathways underlying obesity.  This lead to examining how metabolic pathways define cancer and now she is currently studying tumor immunology.


How do I begin to tell you the adventures your scientific career will take you on?   Do I tell you everything or leave some stories as a surprise?  A little hint is that your love of science will take you to NYC where you pursue a doctorate in biology.  Eventually you’ll meet your husband, a fellow graduate student, while working hard in lab. You realize you don’t have to hide behind how smart you are to get a guy to like you.  Just be the wonderfully inquisitive, thoughtful, and intelligent person you are and boys will get that and like that about you.

Always remember to stay curious because this will be the foundation of your love of science.   Ask questions like how do plants grow and why is the sky blue and have fun in the pursuit of the answers.   Eventually this will lead to asking bigger questions with more difficult answers like how does cancer form and how do we cure it?

Above all, remember that liking science doesn’t make you nerdy and don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.  Keep working hard and doing well in school.  There will definitely be days you won’t want to do this but stick to it.  Your perseverance will lead to a rewarding career finding cures to help sick people and along the way you’ll make wonderful friends that will last a lifetime.   Don’t be too self-conscious and remember that what makes you different will be your strength.  Be confident, adventurous, laugh easily, and don’t worry so much about what your next step should be.  Pursue the things that interest you and the rest will fall in place.

Virologist Researcher, Sarah Pagni’s letter to her 16-year old self April 27, 2012

Posted by Science Club for Girls in Letter to Young Self, women in science.
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Sarah Pagni is a  PhD candidate at Mount Sinai School of Medicine studying how dengue virus modulates the human immune system.  She earned her Bachelors degree at Mount Holyoke College majoring in biochemstry and minoring in art history.


Dear Sarah, age 16, fall 2000,

I’m sure you aren’t going to want to hear this but I’m just going to say it, junior year of high school isn’t your best year.  Take a deep breath, you’ll do perfectly well in your classes, but everything is much harder this year than before.  Right now you’re struggling through Mr. Noll’s physics class and I know it doesn’t seem fair that you were put into the extremely hard class and other people are coasting through the easier class right now but believe me, this is a good thing.  While I never came to really love physics and the class does not get easier as the year goes on (sorry), Mr. Noll really pushed me to think critically.  To do experiments to answer my questions.   To always ask why.   And he’s right, physics makes a lot more sense with “the calculus”.  The two semesters of physics you’ll take in college are so much easier than the year in high school; it makes so much more sense.  Most importantly, this year of physics torture will be a very transformative one for you; the one thing that Mr. Noll really imparts to you is to be passionate about what you do in life.  I’ve probably only met a handful of people who truly, absolutely love what they do as much as he loved teaching high school juniors and seniors physics.  And you’ll decide that’s what you want; no, not the physics, but the passion.

By the way later this year, a guy in your English class is going to break a plate over his head (more…)

Natalie Johnson’s Letter to her young self March 31, 2012

Posted by Science Club for Girls in Letter to Young Self.
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Natalie is a mathematician, business owner, programmer and teacher. She is the founder and CEO of READit, a consulting firm dedicated to closing the achievement gap through data.

Hey There New Baby,

Natalie in her Brownie uniform

Look into your future. Do you see what I see? You are running to kindergarten with your friends – full of excitement to join in and sing with your classmates about the weather, the state capitols and basic math facts; you are walking with your best friend to elementary school – sharing stories about what happened yesterday in physics and how your lab assignment turned out compared to your peers; you are sending a text blast to 2000 of your high school friends across the globe to share ideas and tricks to win the electronic chess game that you all started months ago; you are balancing college life, your social life and your 1 million tweets from your successful virtual business – all while deciding whether or not you will continue to live in space or move back to Earth after you proudly obtain your PhD in STEM…

Hey there, New Baby! You go girl with your new self and new, innovative mind!