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Thursday, May 15, 2014

'Math Options' Spotlights Careers Girls can Count On

'Math Options' Spotlights Careers Girls can Count On

Instructor Conny Pope, at right, guides DuBois Middle School seventh grader Brooke Holben and her class mates through a forensic science exercise during Math Options.
DuBOIS – Middle school aged girls from throughout the region got a first-hand look at some math and science intensive career fields at Penn State DuBois on May 13.

Nearly 200 seventh grade girls from 14 schools were introduced to careers and every day activities that require skills in mathematics and science during the annual Math Options Program. The program is designed teach young girls how skills in these areas apply to a variety of real-world situations and rewarding careers. The hope is that they stay interested in mathematics by learning about the opportunities and success that they can realize through its' use. The program is aimed at the specific seventh grade female demographic because statistics show that they are at the greatest risk for losing interest in these essential subjects.

"Seventh grade is a time when girls' interest in these fields can start to fade," said Heather Parizek, an instructor in mathematics and geosciences at Penn State DuBois, as well as Math Options co-director. "Social pressures to not enter these fields can also be a factor. So, it's good for the girls to see women who are strong role models working in these fields."

The activities the girls participate in through Math Options are focused on areas including health, engineering, production, forensics, chemistry, biology, and more. Volunteer instructors who work professionally in these fields guide the students through the activities. Their goal is to provide a fun, hands-on learning experience where the girls can apply math skills to solve problems or gather information.

One session focused on forensic science used by law enforcement in solving crimes. Students were able to see a realistic take on the types of activities that are fictionalized on TV programs like CSI. Session presenter Conny Pope said there is important work to be done using math skills behind the scenes in forensics.

"We're looking at basic concepts in forensics; how to observe, measure, and keep track of your observations," Pope said.

In one exercise, students examined human hair and dog hair under a microscope and recorded the differences between each. Pope explained, "The pigment molecules are different. In a human hair the pigment molecules go lengthwise, in a dog hair they run perpendicular to the direction of the hair's growth. This is something students can observe and chart."

Jennifer McDonald, a seventh grade science teacher from Philipsburg-Osceola said her students were exposed to plenty of new information during Math Options. She said, "I think for our girls they're not aware at this age of the opportunities available in careers that use math and science. Some of these girls wouldn't see some of these things anywhere else but here."

School districts and parochial schools who participated in this year's Math Options Program include Brockway, Brookville, Clarion-Limestone, Curwensville, DuBois, DuBois Area Catholic, Johnsonburg, Kane, Moshannon Valley, Philipsburg-Osceola, Red Bank Valley, Ridgway, Saint Marys, and Saint Marys Catholic.

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