Event works to expand girls’ horizons into science, math

March 30, 2009

By Chantelle Lusebrink

Pine Lake Middle School sixth-graders Lisa Gutcher, Lear Keren and Angie Cluff (from left) show off their inner-ear molds from a career seminar at the 27th annual Expanding Your Horizons event March 22 hosted by the American Association of University Women. By Chantelle Lusebrink

Pine Lake Middle School sixth-graders Lisa Gutcher, Lear Keren and Angie Cluff (from left) show off their inner-ear molds from a career seminar at the 27th annual Expanding Your Horizons event March 22 hosted by the American Association of University Women. By Chantelle Lusebrink

Girl power was in the air at the 27th annual Expanding Your Horizons Event for middle school girls at Bellevue Community College March 22.

“Whatever guys can do, girls can do better,” said Lisa Gutcher, a Pine Lake Middle School sixth-grader. “Everyone says science and math are for guys and we say, ‘No, it’s not.’”

The event is aimed at engaging young women to pursue careers in science and math-related fields.

Nearly 420 middle school girls chose from among 40 career seminars with women professionals in fields like law enforcement, medicine, graphics, programming, engineering, architecture and media.

While they teach a practical skill, the mentors speak about what their jobs are like, what challenges they face, what rewards they see and what type of education students will need to break into the field.

Girls could choose three of the 40 seminars to attend during their half-day.

Holly Halstead, a Beaver Lake Middle School eighth-grader, attended “Video Gaming is not Just a Boy’s Game!,” “Veterinary Medicine” and “Zooarcheology.”

“I liked different things about each of them, so it’s hard to say what I liked best,” she said. “But the archeology one was really cool. We had to examine different bones of animals over different periods of time and guess different information about them.”

She said the session gave her a glimpse into what it’s like to unearth treasures, long forgotten under our feet.

Since 1982, local professional women belonging to the American Association of University Women have gathered to speak about their education and careers at the event.

The seminar is a place where girls like Lauren Barthenheier, an Issaquah Middle School seventh-grader, got her first up-close-and-personal view of a human brain at the “Mind Your Own Business” session.

“We got to see it,” she said, showing a photo she took with her phone. “We learned about the fact that different parts of the brain control things, like your left hand is controlled by the right brain. That was the most cool thing.”

Lauren and her friends, Jane Heffernan and Megan Henry, also Issaquah Middle School students, each went their own way during the workshop, so they could compare notes.

“It’s fun to do and you get to experiment with possible jobs,” Jane said.

“It’s hands-on exposure, so the girls get to see how it’s applied,” said Liz Heffernan, Jane’s mother.

To date, more than 7,500 young women have attended the event, which has helped more than a few help craft their careers.

Barbara Cluff, who has completed masters-level work at Brigham Young University in scanning electron microscopy, was one. After attending the workshop about 25 years ago, she decided to take additional science classes in high school.

“Then, she became a biologist who works with microscopes,” said Angie Cluff, her daughter, a Pine Lake Middle School sixth-grader, who attended the event for the first time.

“I still remember that first year,” Barbara Cluff said. “I just thought, ‘Wow! Look at all these women, like me. I can do this,’ and I did.”

Angie and her friends, Lear Keren and Lisa Gutcher, attended three seminars together.

“We did ‘Pick Your Own Colors,’ where you learned about design, ‘Listen Up,’ where you get to look in your own ear, and you get a mold of it, too,” Lear said, showing off her mold. “We liked the ear one the best.”

“And we did ‘Solar Pow-Her,’ where we learned how to use flashing to create solar-powered cars,” Angie added.

It wasn’t only students who learned, said event spokeswoman Kelvie Comer. More than 120 parents stayed to hear four women panelists speak about education, science and technology and career paths.

“I love coming to the parent seminars,” said Laurie Halstead, Holly’s mother. “They are so different every year, and full of information for us to help our daughters.”

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