Geneseo encourages female scientists

A team of Geneseo faculty is collaborating with local K-12 schools to encourage female students to develop and maintain an interest in the physical sciences, geological science and physics through their high school and collegiate careers.

The committee received a $295,890 grant from the National Science Foundation to head up "The Power of Physical Science" project. The Geneseo team will partner with Geneseo Central, Dansville, Mount Morris, Pavilion and York school districts.

Kurt Fletcher, chair of the physics and astronomy department, will lead a team that includes Dori Farthing and Amy Sheldon of the geological science department and Katie Rommel-Esham, associate professor of education.

The POPS program will focus on encouraging interest in the sciences for girls at the middle and high school levels. Fletcher said that his team would be working not independently but with teachers in the various school districts to determine what will work best for the students.

Fletcher cited research showing that women tend to choose to study science because they believe it will allow them to help people. "We want to show that physics and geology are relevant to solving societal problems," Fletcher said.

Amanda Schmitt, a junior geological science major, agreed. "I think that girls are usually drawn to more sympathetic majors like childhood education and psychology," she said. With this in mind, the team will focus in on interdisciplinary issues like energy and climate change and how science can help address those topics.

Fletcher said he is concerned with a low ratio of women in physical sciences because, "We are missing a huge talent pool if they are losing interest in our subject early on."

Schmitt said that her geology class is comprised of 11 females and four males. However, Fletcher said that only about 20 percent of graduating physics majors are women and that the ratio for geological science graduates is well under 50 percent.

"It's important to have females in the field because not only do they offer a different perspective than men, but they are a good role model for today's young women who are interest in learning more about geology despite the current lack of female involvement."

The grant the team received is a two-year Mathematics and Sciences Partnership start-up grant that could potentially be followed up with a second grant if the program is successful. The team will use hands-on enrichment cirricula to procure interest in the sciences and intends to measure the success of the project using before and after surveys along with interviews with the students.