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April 29, 2008

Oh the places you'll go

This month's Scientiae Carnival, is about "changing views of ourselves and our careers as we progress through life." For someone as old as I am, these changes might best be expressed as a play with many acts:

Act 1: A very young Patty tries to be an alter boy and finds that no matter how much she knows about religion, that is not going to happen because, back then girls were not allowed to be alter boys (Today it is possible if the bishop agrees, however boys are preferred).

Act 2: Patty, a bit older, starts thinking about college and a major in engineering. Checking across New York State she finds very few engineering programs open to women (told you I was old). One program looks good and will let her in but won't let her, or any young women, live on campus. Our heroine goes off to a coed Jesuit College to major in math and minor in physics

Act 3: Pat starts thinking about what she wants to do with her life and realizes that she has the skills to be a mediocre mathematician or a good educational researcher. Off to graduate school she goes.

Act 4: Dr. Pat is an assistant professor of research, measurement and statistics. She likes the work she is doing but feels she isn't doing what she really wants to do (change the world) so she quits the day she gets tenure.

Act 5: President Pat founds Campbell-Kibler Associates, an educational research and evaluation firm with an emphasis on science and math education and gender, disability and race/ethnicity.

Act 6: Blogger Pat starts the FairerScience webblog

Act 7: Who knows but it certainly has been a fun ride so far.

April 25, 2008

Confessions of a Former Girl Scout Cookie Seller…

Until I was lured away by the appeal of playing the flute in my school band, I was a proud Girl Scout. I earned badges, completed the Bridge to Juniors, and I even learned where babies came from at one very memorable meeting. And of course, I sold the famous Girl Scout cookies, going door-to-door in our neighborhood. My mother actually saved my green uniform sash and gave it to me before I got married (along with a framed scrap of my childhood “blankie”). I got it out this morning, according to the patches sewn on the back of the sash I was a “star cookie seller” in 1980, sold 150 boxes of cookies in 1981, 100 in 1982, and 150 in 1983.

So, at this point you’re probably wondering two things: Why is she telling us all of this and how did human reproduction come up at a Girl Scout meeting? Right now I’m only answering the first question – I started thinking about my cookie-selling days after I read an article about two 12 year-old Girl Scouts who recently stopped participating in the cookie sales (they sold magazines instead). Madison Vorva and Rhiannon Tomtishen did a research project on orangutans that was part of their Bronze Award project and “discovered the habitat of orangutans is being threatened by conversion of the land to the production of palm oil, an ingredient in Girl Scout Cookies.”

In a fabulous demonstration of how research can lead to action (and activism) Madison and Rhiannon decided to do something with their new-found knowledge – they stopped selling the cookies and started spreading the word, including meeting Jane Goodall and developing a website that provides information about orangutans and palm oil and ways for people to take action. Although their local council isn’t planning to stop the cookie sale they’re not giving up and they’re not quitting girl scouts either:

“The council will work with the girls and has invited them to make their presentation about the dangers of palm oil to Girl Scout leaders before next year's cookie sale. The educational effort is to be part of Rhiannon and Madison's work toward the Girl Scout Silver Award.”

According to the description of the Girl Scout Bronze Award, “working towards this award demonstrates her commitment to helping others, improving her community and the world, and becoming the best she can be” – kudos to Rhiannon and Madison for fulfilling those ideals. As for the rest of us, if the health concerns about Girl Scout cookies aren’t enough to make you step away from the Thin Mints, hopefully their research will.

April 23, 2008

I can't make this stuff up!

The American Chemical Society (ACS) has a a mole as its mascot and the mole's name is, naturally, Avogadro. Cute huh? Not so cute are the descriptions of the stuffed moles you can buy to show your ACS support:

First there is Milli, well actually her full name is Milli-Mole Doll. Milli, and I quote, "is thoroughly modern with her purple T-shirt, white lab coat, goggles and closed-toe shoes, but she’s never pretentious. She will sit for hours on your desk or lab bench hanging on your every word as you explain the permutations of the Schrödinger equation. She gets you - she really does!"

Of course you may want to choose Plush Mole Toy. He, yes he, "is ready for work in his white lab coat and goggles. He even has his own test tube and is sure to keep you company on your desk or lab bench and assist you with your every need."

And oh yes, he's worth more (or at least is more expensive).

What's left to say? Well ACS has had a committee to encourage women in chemistry since 1927! Guess some organizations are just slow learners.

April 20, 2008

She Won!

We’ve always been fans of Indy Car Racer Danica Patrick. Indeed our first post ever was about car racing and ended with “Go Danica!” After consistently finishing in the top 10, today Danica won her first Indy Car race and became the first woman ever to win a race in a major closed-course racing series. As sports reporter Bruce Martin wrote “Patrick is now more famous for her racing skill than for her stunning beauty that graced the pages of Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Edition.”

And Danica now that you’ve won, you may want to follow the example of drag race champion Shirley Muldowney. The press had christened her “Cha Cha.” In her first interview after winning the championship, a reporter called Cha Cha. She took a long look at him and said “My name is Shirley”.

April 19, 2008

Dropping in between trips

I got back from DC last night and am off to NYC tomorrow. But first I have to do laundry, finish a presentation and make lots of cookies for the students I'll be seeing Monday and Tuesday and for Zuska, to thank her for all she does. Amazingly I'm not exhausted, well actually I am; but I'm also excited. I spent Thursday and Friday at an NSF Workshop: Evaluation of Efforts to Broaden Participation in STEM. At the workshop I also learned about the NSF Working Group on Broadening Participation which has at its charge, to develop a plan to increase participation in NSF programs from underrepresented groups, and broaden the pool of reviewers for NSF proposals. There is a draft report which should be out soon, I’ll let you know when you know.

Not quite so soon (but we are writing as fast as we can), there will be a report our workshop with a focus on outcomes, metrics, indicators and designs related to broadening participation in STEM within NSF and within and across NSF programs. Will link you to the report when it is available.

In case you have any extra time while you are waiting for these reports, feel free to take a look at Toni Clewell and my latest, hot of the press. Building Evaluation Capacity Guide 1: Designing a Cross-Project Evaluation and Guide 2: Collecting and Using Data in Cross-Project Evaluations>. Here’s a shock, they target organizations that focus on increasing the diversity of the STEM workforce.

April 14, 2008

Building Web Communities

Many good things are happening here at FairerScience, but the best one may be that we've put up a whole new section on the website called "Building Web Communities."

You can start with any of the multi media presentations there. They come from the 2008 AAAS session "Blogs, Boards and Bonding: Using Electronic Communities To Support Women in Science." You just have to see and hear Annalee Newitz present on "Women. Blogs and Science". Annalee, yes she's the Annalee from www.io9.com and techsploitation, will blow your socks off.

Then you should listen to Rosa Carson (yes our Rosa--she left us for Tufts and we miss her) talk about "Using Action Boards to Support Women in Science" and learn a lot about what we've been doing wrong and right in our use of action boards. And if you wonder what Rosa looks like there is a great picture of her there. In a third presentation Claudia Morell from the Center for Women and Information Technology provides an important international perspective when she speaks about "Using Electronic Communities To Support Women in Science".

You can also check out our latest tool, "Using Women in Science Blogs to Encourage Girls in Science". It shows you how to…, well I guess based on the title you can figure that out for yourself. Along with tips and ideas, Using… provides examples of blogs on women's lives as science students and scientists and on the science they do. Hopefully you'll see some old friends there and be introduced to some new ones.

It's all very exciting. So check it out. Let us know what you think and what else you would like to see there.

April 13, 2008

Crafty & Tasty Fractals

It’s no secret that I am somewhat of a crafty diva. I also love to bake, thanks to growing up with my mother, who is an extraordinary baker. So, I was totally tickled when I came across two projects that incorporated science into crafts and baking. They’re both on the very fun and funny site Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories. Both projects include step-by-step instructions complete with photos. This makes them easy for you to try at home or incorporate in educational activities.

First up are fractal cookies, which are based on the Sierpinski carpet. Fair warning - don’t click that link if you’re hungry!

Second, on the crafty side we have another version of the Sierpinksi fractal, this time executed in fimo . The end result is beautiful Sierpinksi triangle earrings although I bet you could also create a very cool necklace using several of the different iterations.

I think these projects on the Evil Mad Scientist site perfectly illustrate some of the suggestions from our January webcast. Sadly, the audio of the webcast was lost but you can still see our fabulous slides here. One of the topics we covered in the webcast was “Using Blogs to Encourage Girls Towards Science Careers” and one advantage of blogs is that they can “help us meet girls where they’re at.” If you’re working with girls who are interested in crafts or baking these projects could help spark their interest in science. The same principle applies to the Cosmetic Chemistry program I wrote about earlier. And yes, I know that I’ve given three traditionally “girly” examples here. What can I say…I like to cook and do crafts so that’s what caught my eye – it’s where I’m at! I’m on the look-out for other projects that can help with “meeting girls where they’re at” and hopefully we’ll feature more cool things here at FairerScience.

April 10, 2008

Some good things we can do

Postings have been a little thin here at FairerScience this week. Blame three proposals (done), an important presentation (done) and a review (doing). Since most of my extra work is almost done, I thought I would end the "official" work week (like the work week ever ends) with some good things we can do.

We can reduce stereotype threat. Many of us are aware of the concept of stereotype threat The definition is "being at risk of confirming, as self-characteristic, a negative stereotype about one's group. In English it means that, for example, as a woman, if you are in a situation where it is made clear that women aren't as good in math as men; there will be a tendency for you not to do as well as you would have otherwise. Now there is a resource on how to reduce stereotype threat! The site provides seven research based strategies we can use including "reframing the task. " This means we can reduce stereotype threat based on gender by telling female students that a test is gender-fair. Hopefully the test will be fair but interestingly whether the test is fair or not doesn't matter here; it is the perception that makes the difference. My favorite strategy is "Emphasize high standards with assurances about capability for meeting them."

We can teach others about the environment. Next week is National Environmental Education Week The theme is carbon footprints. There are a ton of K-12 resources on the website including high school lesson plans on such topics as ; Food, Water and Climate; and Green Building and Climate. Naturally my favorite is Equity and Climate.

We can have a positive impact on the environment ourselves. I'm bragging here. Our use of electricity for last month was down 30% from March of 2007. Washing clothes in cold water, using fluorescents, turning things off, wearing an extra layer of clothes actually made a difference. Now that I'm motivated and the snow is almost gone, I'm back to using the clothesline rather than the dryer.

We can all wish Tom, FairerScience's technical guru and my spouse, a Happy Birthday!

April 06, 2008

The possible dream

Michael Marshall, of the The New Scientist has compiled a list of 10 accomplishments that were once thought to be scientifically impossible. Some, like the impossibility of analyzing the stars, were disproved centuries ago. Others, like teleportation, have only recently begun to enter the realm of possibility.

This got me thinking. One of the early steps to doing the impossible, is to define it as possible. So I am announcing today that by 2030 the percent of women and men from different racial/ethnic groups in the sciences will reflect their percentage in the general population. Ok that's it; it's possible. Now let's make it happen.

PS With allies like Peter Sagal (yes the Wait Wait guy), how can we not succeed? Peter, his wife and three daughters went to see “Horton Hears a Who.” It turns out, as he explains, "In a new subplot added by the filmmakers, the Mayor of Whoville has 96 daughters. He has one son." Peter suggests we "Guess who gets all his attention? Guess who saves the day?"

There will be no spoiler alert here-- you have to read what he wrote yourself or better yet
listen. I promise you'll be glad that you did! Thank you Peter

April 04, 2008

Ah to be 18 again

Well not exactly. I would not want to be 18 again; but this looks like something that would be really fun to do.

PBS's Design Squad wants you—well they do if you are 18 or 19 "passionate about engineering and excited to spend the months of June-August in Boston (and traveling as well)." The program's goal is to get viewers excited about engineering and the design process (that's pretty cool). Ok summer in Boston is not always great but on the other hand they will pay you, give you money for housing and a chance to compete for a $10,000 prize.

They want 3 women and 3 men (or gals and guys as they say—hey it least it wasn't guys and dolls) There is an application and the deadline is 4/11.

I've already told my nephew Alex he should apply.

April 03, 2008

Pat's grumpy

Part I Doing the dishes with the TV on in the other room, I heard someone ask "Is your heart strong enough for love?" Ah, I thought what an interesting question. Oh wait, it's not a philosophical question. It's a caution about a male potency drug.

Part II I got an e-mail from a friend, whose professional life has been about gender equity- mostly in STEM, about her new project. She says "I'll be working again with the best teacher from the XXXX project I worked with him in XXXX last year. An utter joy, and so much easier to work with a man. You can get so much more done that way." WTF?

Boy do I wish all this had happened in time for the April fools Carnival (which by the way is great) it would have made a great entry.

April 02, 2008

Carnival & Cosmetics

The April Scientiae Carnival is up at Women in Science - check it out!

There was a neat article in the New York Times, awesomely titled “Experimenting with Makeup: What Puts the ‘Ick’ in Lipstick?” . It’s about a program done at the Boston Museum of Science, called “Cosmetic Chemistry.” It was a fun read, especially reading the girls’ reactions to what they learned. The program reminded me of the Beauty Brains, a site I posted about previously I love hearing about innovative ways to connect science and the every day world – unfortunately it doesn’t look like the program is being offered again any time soon. However, I did find directions for a science fair project with a similar idea. Looks like you could create your own version of Cosmetic Chemistry!