An Exciting Future—By the Numbers

Career Exploration Event Encourages Girls to Consider Science, Math Fields

            More than 50 girls attending the College of Southern Maryland’s Women + Math = Infinite Options Conference Oct. 16 had the opportunity to see what exciting careers and futures they can have—with studies in mathematics.

            The event, in its sixth year, brought together girls between the ages of 13 and 21 and professional women with careers which draw heavily on math.

            “The idea is to encourage middle, high school and college students to take as many math classes as they can in order to be academically prepared when exciting opportunities arise,” said CSM Mathematics Professor Sandra Poinsett event organizer along with Assistant Professor Stephanie McCaslin, and adjunct faculty Barbara Peck and Holli Chichester.

            “About seven years ago I was teaching a calculus class of 30 and saw only two ladies in the class–I thought, ‘this isn’t right,’” said Poinsett.  “Through this program, each year young women are encouraged to come in and to explore a variety of career options.”

            One of the toughest hurdles to overcome for girls in pursuing a field involving math is confidence, according to CSM Mathematics Professor Susan Strickland. “Confidence is a huge indicator of success and persistence,” Strickland told women gathered for the Parent-Teacher Workshop. “Women come to math with a blend of high aspiration and low confidence.” 

            Strickland’s workshop presented some of the constructive ways to encourage girls to pursue science and math fields, including letting students know that their academic abilities are expandable–not fixed, encouraging girls to take risks and to participate in extra-curricular activities, and provide female role models and mentors.

            A role model and model of persistence for attendees was presenter and panelist Dr. Njema Frazier, acting director of the International Programs Management Division at the National Nuclear Security Administration, U. S. Department of Energy.  With a good support structure at home, Frazier said that she always liked math, but really enjoyed the challenge of physics. Her parents enrolled her in college prep programs and encouraged her to accept that the work would be difficult and not to give up. In college, the material and concepts became more difficult, but as she progressed, they were also more interesting, she said.

            “I enjoyed the challenge. I went into physics and nuclear physics because I knew that it would be challenging,” she said. “And, I took pride in mastering the material.”

             Participants also heard the panel of professional women describe their varied paths to success and how they have balanced their home life and careers. 

            NASA Deputy Director of the Applied Engineering and Technology Directorate Felicia Jones told participants that her specialty in astrophysics has given her flexibility and job advancement opportunities while raising her family. Because she had a high-demand skill, she was able to create a work schedule that allowed her to be home when her children got home from school, she said.

            Throughout the day, participants had opportunities to interact with women with careers in health science, cryptology, astrophysics, software engineering, computer science, financial services, architecture, physics, civil engineering, meteorology, cyber security, veterinary medicine, pharmacy and chiropractic.

            Hailey Allen, 16, a junior at Lackey High School, attended the event to explore engineering careers. She participated in a workshop with Frazier on physics, Jones on astrophysics and Ronla Henry, deputy program manager of the Advance Weather Interactive Processing System at the National Weather Service, on meteorology.

Another opportunity for career exploration will come on Nov. 13 at the Youth in Technology Summit at CSM’s La Plata Campus. The free event introduces middle school, high school and college students and parents to career opportunities in the science, technology, engineering and math fields.

Students will participate in workshops as well as meet professionals in their fields of interest. Exhibitors will offer first-hand knowledge in defense technologies, information technologies, health technologies, energy technologies and trades technologies.

            For information on Youth in Technology Summit, visit


Commonalities of Successful Women in Science and Math Fields

·         Strong identification with a particular professor or area of study (need not be a female professor)

·         Dedication and aspiration first; talent second

·         Availability of mentoring and guidance

·         Strong role models in scientific fields

·         Maturity and leadership opportunities during college and postgraduate years


Source: Kerr, B., & Kerpius, S.E.R. (2004). Encouraging talented girls in math and science:  effects of a guidance intervention. High Ability Studies, 15(1), 84-102.


What Parents and Teachers Can Do

•         Let girls know that their academic abilities are expandable, not fixed.

•         Give informational feedback–praise effort while pointing out how to improve strategies.

•         In addition to providing opportunities for success, provide opportunities for “failure” (failure is a diagnostic stage of learning that precedes success).  At the same time, avoid negative messages.

•         Encourage girls to take risks–help them to be feisty females.

•         Teachers should even the playing field–ask higher-order questions of all students, give equal feedback and call on male and female students equally.

•         Use cooperative learning, but be cognizant of roles within groups.

•         Provide female role models and mentors.

•         Encourage extra-curricular activities–these help to build confidence and self-esteem


Source: CSM Mathematics Professor Susan Strickland