Seventh Grade Girls Encouraged to Explore Math and Science

Penn State Brandywine held its twentieth annual Math Options event, warmly welcoming seventh grade girls from 24 local schools, who are interested in math and science, on Friday, May 20. The event encourages young girls to consider pursing math or science in the future and shows them just how fun it can be. The girls learn they can break the mold and be successful in these fields that are historically male-oriented.

The students were split up into nine groups and each participated in three unique sessions designed to help them better understand each subject area. They completed tasks related to communication skills, teambuilding, collaboration, listening and comprehension, following directions and creativity.

During lunch, the girls heard from a panel of professionals with experience in various math and science-related fields, followed by a mini career fair that illustrated how these middle school girls could obtain a job in the future.

Overall, there were 11 sessions instructed by 16 guest presenters, women who have excelled in math and science fields in their own businesses or for prestigious companies.

One group learned how to make Silly Putty from scratch while another group teased their brains with a drawing game. One girl described her own drawing to see if her partner could draw the same thing from her description. They studied blood cells, wind and forensics, and were taught how to run a business and the importance of "going green." They also discussed oil spills, psychology and how the mind works. The girls even learned about aeronautics through making paper airplanes and explored engineering by building a tower made of straws.

Sanne Eisenhauer, co-presenter for the "Straw Wars" session and senior administrative assistant at Lockheed Martin Corporation, said, "It's fun to interact with children. This event is special because [these are] girls who are interested in this field."

Kris Bartosiak, co-presenter of the "Let's Make Silly Putty" session and president of Bar M. Associates, Inc. said, "I think it's important to encourage girls in this field."

Associate Professor of Education and event orchestrator Patricia Van Leuvan, said, "We ask that the schools pick girls who have potential in the areas of math and science but are not necessarily the best students, as they will probably get the encouragement from teachers and parents to continue the highest level of math and science in high school so that more options are open to them."

Van Leuvan explained why the event is open only to seventh grade girls, "Seventh grade is a point when many students are making decisions about the level of math they will take, so we want to encourage them to aim high."

Jennifer Zosh is proof that the program is effective. Once a seventh grade Math Options attendee in the early 1990s, she went on to earn a Ph.D. in psychological and brain sciences, now serves as an assistant professor of human development and family sciences (HDFS) at the campus and has led sessions at the event for the past two years.

by Dave Serpentine, senior