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Girls connect with kindred learners

AAUW provides learning outlets for female students interested in science, math

Posted: April 11, 2009 12:05 a.m.
Updated: April 11, 2009 6:30 a.m.
A visiting student receives a lab lesson during a recent American Association of University Women’s conference. A visiting student receives a lab lesson during a recent American Association of University Women’s conference.
A visiting student receives a lab lesson during a recent American Association of University Women’s conference.

Ava Bustamante has always been interested in math and science.

But the 13-year-old student at La Mesa Junior High School said she gets picked on by other students because of her interest in the academic fields and school.

Ava found a connection to girls who share her interests at a math and science conference sponsored by the local chapter of the American Association of University Women.

Ava was one of about 160 local junior high school girls who got to meet other girls interested in math and science, and learn about careers in the two fields from women in the working world.

“I was with girls who understood me,” Ava said, who attended the conference last year as well.

She connected to the bacteria workshop, which taught her about cells and viruses, a class she didn’t think she would enjoy so much.

Last year, Ava took part in another event sponsored by the American Association of University Women when she spent a week at Whittier College, where she got a taste of college life and activities to learn about concepts like astronomy.

Even though she has to get through four years of high school, Ava has a new goal.

“To be perfectly honest, I really want to get into college,” she said, adding that she would like to attend Academy of the Canyons, the middle-college high school where students earn high-school and college credits at the same time.

The experiences and the organization’s members have left Ava with new interests.

“They’ve pretty much encouraged me,” she said.

It’s a change her mother, Melody, has noticed.

“I think it increased her level of self-confidence,” Melody Bustamante said.

“It’s nice because it gives the girls a snapshot of different career options for them,” she added.

At Whittier College, Bustamante said Ava was able to make friends with the other students and find common interests.

“It was fabulous. It’s amazing how the girls open up to each other,” she said.

Getting a taste of dorm life was also part of the experience.

Bustamante remembers her daughter coming home to say, “Mom, I can so do college. I can so live on campus.”

Ava’s experiences are part of what the women of the American Association of University Women’s Santa Clarita Valley strive to instill in young girls through events like the conference.

“It’s important that girls have an early opportunity to experience what professional women in those fields have accomplished,” Jane

Hanson, charter member and founder of the math-and-science conference, said.

The Santa Clarita Valley chapter, founded in 1968, sponsors three events: the women in history program for local schools, the math-and-science conference and Tech Trek, which sponsors local girls who experience a week of college life at Whittier College or Fresno State University.

The organization also champions for social change, equity and efforts for fair pay, Bartley said.

The group has about 100 members, ranging from retired teachers to women with careers in math and science, she said.

This year’s math-and-science conference, held in March, brought 21 workshops for junior high school girls to explore career options ranging from software engineering to dentistry and science.

While elementary school-aged girls are comfortable with learning math and science, girls who enter junior high can become intimidated by the subjects, causing them to shift their studies, Diane Bartley, president-elect said.

The conference gives the girls a boost in confidence they need.

“They’ll say, ‘Gosh, I never knew I could do this kind of thing,’” Bartley said. “They get really excited about these things.”

The conference has a hands-on style as it puts girls alongside veterinarians and chemists to take part in experiments and procedures.

The college experience helps girls set goals and achieve them, she said.

The organization attempts to reach girls during their junior-high years, typically seen as a volatile period mixed with physical growth, Hanson said.

“They’re finding themselves and they often think that we can do some of this later,” Hanson said. “And we want to make sure they experience some of the math and science curriculum now ... we want to get them excited about it early.”



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