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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…)

Astronomer and educator Ann Martin’s letter to her 14-year-old self March 22, 2012

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Dr. Ann Martin (Twitter: @Annie314159) is a postdoctoral fellow at NASA Langley Research Center, working on the NASA Innovations in Climate Education (NICE) project. Cont’d below.


Dear Annie at 14,

I know the things I want to say to you in this letter would not be the things you would want to ask me. At 14, the world feels impossibly big, and, while people are telling you that you have so many options, so many things you could do with your life, it’s tough for you to have a sense of what that means.

Your parents talk about grad school, and you aren’t sure you know what that means, or that you know anyone who has gone to grad school (though you do!). You love space, but aren’t sure what the options are in that field. You love reading and writing as much as math and science, and it’s a lot easier to see how you could be good at doing something in those fields, so you plan on becoming an English teacher. You don’t know exactly what you really *want* to be, but you’re pretty sure nothing exists that involves writing and communicating and science.

The job you will have when you are 28 is a job that you don’t know exists at 13.

But you figure all of that will work itself out, and that your teachers and parents can tell you where to go, and so you want to ask me about life, not about careers.

To get all of that out of the way: there will be friends. There will be love. There will be puppies! You’re not, sadly, going to be an astronaut, though you are about to go to Space Camp twice. Eventually, you’re going to figure out that the people who run Space Camp have the gig you want, and it’s not “astronaut.” But life is going


Environmental educator and activist Yvonne Maingey’s letter to her young self March 21, 2012

Posted by Science Club for Girls in Letter to Young Self.
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Yvonne Maingey is currently undergoing graduate training on environmental education at NYU. Originally from Kenya, she has been an environmental activist since she was 11, when she launched a project and a club to clean up the stream running through her school. She later started a TV program for children that she hosted for several years and continues to be a strong voice for children and youth. She is also an intern with The Earth Child Institute.

Dearest Yvonne,

Beloved thinker, your insatiable passion for more will be your biggest asset. Your constant nagging and questioning everything will be the motivation for your career, your focus and the source of your continuous drive. Remember when you were 12 years old and dad told you to set no limits for yourself? To aim for the best in anything and everything you do – even when you don’t think it’s important? Cling on to that. Life will present you with many challenges, as life should, and many people will tell you that you are not worth much. They will tell you that your ideas, hopes and aspirations will not amount to anything because of your background, because you are a woman, because you are African. They will make you feel inadequate and powerless because of all the things that you do not have, in an attempt to make you forget what you are capable of.

I have lost some battles because I walked in fear.

But, beloved thinker, lean on to these words:

You are powerful beyond written description. Powerful because you’re thoughts and your questions can bring about change. However, your power is limited by your ability to listen and as such listen often, even more than you speak.

Your power is limited by your willingness to put the needs of others before yourself, therefore be attentive to the needs of those who do not have the same opportunities that you do. Speak on behalf of them while empowering them to speak for themselves.

Let your thoughts, questions and ideas serve a greater purpose that is as far away as possible from personal gain.

Remember always that life is supposed to be difficult and in each challenge, give thanks that God sees you as worthy of his molding.See every difficulty as an opportunity for you to overcome, to become stronger and to achieve the greater call on your life.

Work hard, beloved, and just like mama says all the time: “don’t waste any opportunity or walk away from any blessing by being simply too scared to ask for it”. I have lost some battles because I walked in fear.


JP Gazette: Club hopes to generate women scientists March 20, 2012

Posted by Science Club for Girls in SCFG News.
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This article by  first appeared online on March 16, 2012 in the JP Gazette.

Volunteers working with the Science Club for Girls (SCFG) at the Curley School hope that the next generation of scientists and engineers will include a lot more women.

SCFG is a nonprofit collection of educational programs for girls that encourages them in the fields of science and engineering and can include topics as diverse as the oceans, cancer and rocket science. Women teach all the classes. The Curley hosts one of SCFG’s programs.

“We send a message that science, engineering, technology and mathematics are not just for geniuses, only for girls who are ‘A’ students, or only for those who can afford to go to paid programs,” SCFG Executive Director Connie Chow said.

 “Clearly, the more we can get young people, and especially young ladies, interested and excited about science, the better. It’s critical to build that interest and excitement at a young age,” said Curley Principal Jeffrey Slater. “We’re fortunate to have such great partners in our after school program to support our work.”
Continue reading on JP Gazette

Mission Hill Gazette profiles our Northeastern University chapter and collaboration March 12, 2012

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The original article by  first appeared online on March 9, 2012 in the Mission Hill Gazette. Excerpts below.

Some Northeastern University (NU) students and staff are hoping that, through their work with the Science Club for Girls (SCFG), the next generation of scientists and engineers will include a lot more women.

“Our lives are incredibly dependent on science and technology. Economic success is highly linked to innovation in these areas, most of which are dominated by men. Science and technology jobs are among the highest-paid. We need a female perspective in there,” said high school programs coordinator Meghna Marjadi.

Each SCFG program has a curriculum for the season, NU professor Gail Begley explained. Each week’s session focuses on an aspect of that topic.

NU has the first SCFG student organization and has been hosting a weekly science program since 2010. The NU chapter hosts clubs on campus and the girls come from surrounding communities like Mission Hill and Roxbury…

Continue reading on Mission Hill Gazette
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