Adventures in science, adventures in life: Extension program encourages girls in science

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Sunday, June 22, 2014

ELKHORN—When elementary school children are asked about their math and science abilities, boys and girls embrace a can-do attitude in equal numbers.

But once those same children hit middle school, the girls' attitudes evolve from can-do to can-don't, not interested or too hard.

The Walworth County 4-H Girls' Science Outreach Team wants to changes that. On July 16, the team is hosting a daylong “Crazy over Science!” event at the county fairgrounds in Elkhorn.

The event is for girls entering grades 4 to 7 and will include the chance to meet female scientists from a variety of fields, do hands-on science projects, and hang out with girls with similar interests.

“It's part of a national 4-H mandate,” said Debbie Burkman, 4-H Youth Development Educator for the Walworth County Extension office. “We're supposed to be helping encourage scientific pursuits.”

Research shows that young people are not prepared for jobs in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, often referred to collectively as STEM, Burkman said.

Statistically, women pursue careers in science and mathematics at a much lower rate than men.

“It's a complicated problem without any pat answers,” Burkman said. “I really think it has a lot to do with stereotypes."

Burkman cited an American Association of University Women 2010 study that  girls' under representation in STEM careers is due largely to social and environmental factors that shape their achievements and interests.

Many of the old perceptions still linger, Burkman said.

Last year, the outreach team held and Adventures in Nature event at the LuLu Nature Preserve in East Troy.

At the beginning of the event, girls were asked to draw a picture responding to the statement, “When I think of a scientist, this is what I see in my mind.”

About 59 percent drew a male figure, and three were labeled “Albert Einstein.”

After all the activities of the day, 83 percent drew a female figure engaged in one of the day's activities. Two girls labeled the drawings as “Me!” and “Just and ordinary person.”

Registration for the event is required by July 9. The $20 cost includes lunch, dinner, two snacks and a program T-shirt. Girls do not have to be part of a 4-H club to participate.

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