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Girls get exposed to science

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Jeanette Prue, 11, didn’t know what to expect at the Expanding Your Horizons event for girls at the University of New Mexico, but she came away delighted with a solar-powered car and a bug that lights up at night, both of which she had assembled.

The fifth-grader at Dennis Chavez Elementary School was one of nearly 300 girls who arose bright and early on a recent Saturday to attend the 7:30 a.m. conference, sponsored by the New Mexico Network for Women in Science and Engineering. The goal is to help girls realize the magic and rewards that studying science and math can bring, and then choose careers in engineering fields, which are dominated by men.

Several of the girls were drawn in two directions. For example, Destiny Meyers, a 13-year-old at Cottonwood Classical Preparatory School, said she hoped to gain “a greater understanding of engineering and how things work.” She said she might want to be an engineer one day, but conceded that her favorite subject in school is art.

Ellen MacDonald, also 13, attends a Montessori charter school. Although she said she may eventually study experimental psychology, she added, “I love math and science, and my teacher recommended I come here to learn a little more.”

Similarly, Annalyssa Gutierrez, 13, finds herself pulled in two directions: money management and aerospace engineering. The family’s church sent them an email about the event, said her mom, Tanya Marquez, and Annalyssa, a student at LBJ Middle School, hoped to discover a little more about a field she might eventually choose as a career.

After check-in came the dynamic keynote address, delivered by Maj. Gen. Sandra Finan, commander of the Nuclear Weapons Center at Kirtland Air Force Base. Right off the bat, the two-star general told the girls, “You can do anything you want to do.” She explained how people interested in science and engineering can and often do change the world and mold the future.

Finan talked briefly about Marie Curie, the discoverer of radium and two-time Nobel Prize winner; Rear Adm. Grace Hopper, a computer programming pioneer before, during and after World War II who coined the word “debugging” when a moth got stuck in a computer; and Sally Ride, the first American woman to blast off into space.

“Women are breaking through at the top of everything,” Finan said.

Afterward, the girls were off to their assigned classes, such as “Game Design Workshop,” “Sunsational Solar Cells” and “Let’s Talk about Gas!” The classes were taught by volunteers from Sandia Labs, UNM and the general business community, said Nanette Founds, president of New Mexico Network for Women in Science and Engineering.

In addition to focusing their attention on middle-schoolers, the network also reaches out to pueblos and minorities, she said.

Incidentally, boys, while not pursued by the network, are not turned away.

“Our goal is to encourage interest in science and engineering fields,” Founds said. “We don’t want to discourage it. Our priority is to reach out to young women, but we won’t turn away a boy who shows up – providing we have room.”