Middle School Girls Recognized for Excellence in Math and Science

January 12, 2014

Engineering and related careers have long been dominated by men, but women who are at the center of them are reaching out to young girls to show them it doesn't have to be that way.

Twenty-five of some of the brightest middle school girls were honored at the third annual Rising Stars event on Sunday.

It's a chance for them to get recognition for their skills or interest in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).

All of the girls were nominated by their teachers.

"It felt cool because it made me feel like there's other people out there who have my interest in this and it's a growing career path," said Anya Jeppson, an eight grade student at Sutherland Middle School.

The event was put on by the American Association of University Women | Charlottesville/UVA Branch. The organization supports equality and advancement for women and girls through research, philanthropy and scholarships.

"There's more and more research saying it's really important for women to start thinking about these things sooner," said Jill Jones, AAUW chapter president. "The earlier you can get girls thinking about things the better."

Jones says strides are being made in getting girls and women involved in STEM-related fields, but the work isn't done yet.

"You see it amongst faculty members and there's actually an initiative here on campus geared towards that, but it's definitely in its early stages and needing more support to get more women and girls involved," said Jones.

The Rising Stars event featured a keynote address by Dr. Teresa Culver, associate professor of environmental and water resources engineering at the University of Virginia.

The middle school students then got to tour UVa. labs. Fourth-year civil engineering and math major Sydney Schrider and third-year systems engineering student Apoorva Lonkar helped guide tours. Schrider and Lonkar are part of the University of Virginia Society for Women in Engineering.

They understand the need to target girls at a young age.

"In middle school is when girls typically start to drop off, so you'll have a lot of interest in STEM fields through elementary school, and then middle school you'll start to have this decline. I think it's when girls start to think engineering might not be cool," said Schrider.

"I think showing what engineering is all about and showing how they could apply what they're learning in classes to the real world, I think that really helps them gain an interest in engineering," said Lonkar.

The UVa. students gave the Rising Stars real world examples of how they can make an impact by pursing their interest in STEM fields.

"Engineering is a great way to make a difference in a community," said Schrider. "You can look at an example of a doctor -- a doctor might treat a few patients, but a biomedical engineer who creates a new device will help thousands."

In February, the Rising Stars will be connected with college women and community members in STEM fields to keep the conversation going.

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