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Science & Technology

Girls On South Coast Learn About Careers In Science And Engineering In Unusual Way

The fields of science and engineering are dominated by men. So, there’s an effort across the nation to encourage young women to become scientists and engineers. Some girls on the South Coast are learning about those fields in an unusual way. 

Ten-year-old Maxine Nocker is asking neuroscientist Emily Jacobs a question.

“I’ve always been curious about science and I just think that this was a really cool experience,” she said.

Nocker is one of 26 fourth through sixth grade girls who are interviewing scientists and engineers at UC Santa Barbara in an effort to write a book.

“When I signed up, I saw the description that said every week we would meet with a woman scientist in her lab. And I thought that was the coolest opportunity ever,” she said.

This group is from Girls Inc. of Greater Santa Barbara -- an after-school program to empower girls -- that’s collaborating with UC Santa Barbara’s Gevirtz School of Education on what they call the “Curie-Osity Project.” Its name is inspired by one of the most famous female scientists, Marie Curie, who won the Nobel Prize twice for her work in radioactivity.

Diana Arya, an assistant professor in education who spearheads the program, says she wants these girls to get excited about the possibility of a career in STEM, which stands for science, technology, engineering and math.

“I would hope that no matter what, they’re open to trying to scratch beneath the surface of what could be available and be a little more proactive in finding that. So, I’m hoping that the researching that they’re doing is building that kind of mindset. You don’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. I think that would be one of the most important lessons of this project,” she said.

Arya says the girls are writing a book that will eventually be published and available for purchase -- which makes this a unique program that goes beyond the classroom.

“It makes it all concrete. Like there’s a real reason why they’re doing it. It’s not for a grade. They can hold it in their hands. They can point to all the parts that they contributed to that book. It’s something they own. There’s a sense of ownership,” she said.

Emily Jacobs, an assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences at UCSB, is showing the girls how an MRI works.

“My research sits at the intersection of neuroscience and women’s health. So, I’m really obsessed with the role hormones play in the brain and trying to understand the impact they have on brain structure and function,” she said.

Jacobs is one of 12 female scientists who are being profiled for the girls’ book.

“One thing that I want to instill in my daughter and girls of this age is to not give up, to enjoy and embrace that challenge. So much of science is about troubleshooting. There are many other people who don’t understand the problem. But when you commit to it and obsess over it and love it, then you can advance the knowledge that we have in the world,” she said.

Nine-year-old Florence Wang says the project is inspiring, which is exactly the point.

“Girls can do just as good as boys and they can be scientists and follow their own dreams. And it doesn’t matter what other people think. You can still do whatever you want to do,” she said.