Leading way for girls in math, science

June 19, 2005|By Andrew G. Sherwood | Andrew G. Sherwood,SUN STAFF

Even before Harvard University President Lawrence H. Summers proposed that differences in the "intrinsic aptitudes" of men and women were the explanation for women's underrepresentation in the sciences, a plan to increase the number of female science and engineering students had been hatched by the Garrison Forest School and the Johns Hopkins University.

Garrison Forest, an independent boarding and day school near Owings Mills, is partnering with Hopkins' Whiting School of Engineering and Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts and Sciences to bring high school girls into the science and engineering fields.

The two schools have developed the WISE program, or Women in Science and Engineering.

Beginning in the fall, the program will send about 14 female high school juniors to Johns Hopkins for a semester of intense study and mentoring in math and science.

The program has sought 14 strong students -- from within its own student body and without -- capable of advanced work. Along with personal maturity, Garrison Forest has sought students with emotional readiness and solid interpersonal skills.

"The WISE program is aimed at helping young women who already excel in the science and engineering fields," said Peter O'Neill, head of Garrison Forest School.

Science education

Andrea Perry, Garrison Forest's dean of students and director of the WISE program, said, "We're thrilled about the schoolwide benefits of WISE.

"Through this partnership, Hopkins faculty will help us assure an outstanding science education for all our students. Hopkins faculty will consult on curriculum, lab design and professional development for our faculty, as well as mentor students through lecture, assemblies, and experiential activities, plus parent sessions on cultivating science and math abilities."

Tuition will be the same as a normal semester at the school: $16,000, including room, board and activity costs. There are no additional costs for transportation to Johns Hopkins or for science site visits. The students will need about $400 for books and other academic expenses. Some financial aid is available.

Students will take their foreign language, English, history and other core classes at Garrison Forest, and during the afternoons of Tuesday, Thursday and Friday each student will be paired with a science or engineering faculty member at Johns Hopkins.

Hopkins' involvement

At Hopkins, each student will be an active member of her mentor professor's research team, working with the professor and graduate students.

More than 30 male and female faculty members in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences and the Whiting School of Engineering will be available to serve as WISE mentors; a WISE student will be paired with a mentor. The pairing will be based in part upon the student's interests in the mentor's academic discipline and research and upon the student's academic preparedness for participation in the research.

Ilene Busch-Vishniac, professor of mechanical engineering, has been involved in the WISE program since its inception.

"The excitement for this program isn't only on the Garrison Forest side," she said. "JHU is thrilled with the possibilities for the students involved."

Busch-Vishniac said the program was involving girls at the right time.

"This is perfect timing to introduce scientific research to these students," she said. "It will definitely be an enlightening experience."

Members of the Hopkins faculty who were interested in the program submitted proposals for student projects.

One of those involved is noted Chesapeake Bay paleoecologist Grace Brush, professor of geography and environmental engineering.

Brush's prospective projects include a study of the distributions of exotic plant species in the Gwynns Falls watershed; a paleoecological study of the relationships of humans to a very dynamic environment on the eastern shore of Virginia; and an effort to map specific areas, comparing urban and nonurban vegetation.

`Get into science'

Garrison Forest sophomores Jennifer Lee, Addie Hart and Brita Bergland will be taking part in the WISE program in the fall.

"We're looking forward to it," Bergland, a Monkton resident, said. "This will be a good time to get into science and learn from the professors at Johns Hopkins."

Lee, an international student from Korea, enjoys chemistry, physics and math. She said she isn't sure what field she would go into after high school but thinks that the WISE experience will help her narrow her focus.

"Lately I've liked science more than math," she said, "and WISE will be a good way to see the subjects put into use."

Hart agreed with Lee, "It's a little intimidating to know that we'll be working alongside of professors at Johns Hopkins, but I'm looking forward to the opportunity."

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