The sciences for the fittest

Three-year-old Harford academy encourages students, regardless of gender, to pursue science and math studies

May 27, 2007|By Madison Park | Madison Park,Sun Reporter

Like many other 16-year-olds, Michelle Guignet enjoys pop music, dancing and soccer.

She also enjoys organic chemistry. Her eyes widen as she talks about the titration lab in her Advanced Placement chemistry class.

And the high school junior doesn't care how nerdy that sounds.

Guignet attends the Science and Math Academy, a Harford County public schools magnet program. In the three years since the high school academy opened, each class has had nearly equal number of boys and girls.

"It's not a coincidence," said Donna Clem, the program coordinator. "We don't go out of our way to recruit girls. It indicates equality in the talented and interested students."

Students say the stereotype that men dominate engineering, math and sciences is fast fading there.

"Now that opportunities in sciences have opened up for females, not only is it acceptable; now it's expected," said Guignet. "If a guy can do sciences, why can't a girl?"

The male students say it is common to find lots of girls in their Advanced Placement chemistry and physics classes.

"The girls are probably smarter than us," said Stephen Albert, a sophomore.

With 50 spots available in the countywide magnet program every year, the competition is stiff. More than half of the applicants are rejected.

The application requires middle school transcripts, standardized test scores, recommendation letters from teachers and writing samples. The academy invites the top applicants after conducting a review in which the students' ethnicity and gender are unknown.

The school has 147 students. Last week, the newest class of incoming freshmen, consisting of 26 boys and 24 girls, visited the school, which is on the third floor of Aberdeen High School.

Research has found that the gender gap in science and math is closing in secondary and college education. Women have earned more than half of the bachelor's degrees awarded in science and engineering since 2000, according to National Academies research released last fall. But women lag behind men in the scientific and technical work force.

"The true test is when the kids go to college and beyond," Clem said. "You have to see: did they go on into math and science."

Science and Math Academy students take research and technology courses in which they learn to design experiments, measure data and present findings.

In their senior year, students work on research projects with mentors at places such as the Army Research Laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Ground and the Estuary Center.

Junior Kristin Mincey recalled arriving at the academy for the first time.

"Back then, I wasn't into nail polish as I was into insects," she said. "I wasn't into shopping more than going hiking. I was very much into nature and the environment thing."

After three years of intensive math and science, Kristin wants to explore other fields such as psychology, public speaking and journalism.

"Physical science is an interest of mine, but I'm ready to try new things," she said.

Classmate Emmeline Landbeck said she wants to pursue microbiology and chemistry, and perhaps computer science. After researching anthrax at Aberdeen Proving Ground, she said, she is geared toward science.

"A lot of guest speakers we've had at school have been women to show us that it's not just guys out there in the engineering and science fields," she said.

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