by Luciana Starks
Susan Kane, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Cancer Biology, will say she owes her interest in science to Mary Knowlton, a junior high school biology teacher.
“As a young girl the analytical part of science appealed to me,” said Kane. “I enjoyed problem solving and I was good at it.”
Pasadena middle school girls take part in the annual Girls’ Science Day. (Photo by Richard Johnston)
Today, Kane is encouraging other girls to share her love for science as an organizer of Girls’ Science Day, an annual event sponsored by the Pasadena branch of the American Association of University Women and the Pasadena Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.
Faculty members from Pasadena City College’s science departments organize the event for 200 to 300 girls from middle schools throughout Pasadena Unified School District. The students spend time in hands-on workshops that may ask them to dissect a squid or examine fingerprints and blood samples collected from a crime scene.
For the past 14 years, scientists like Kane have given their time to encourage female students to pursue careers related to science and math. The mentors hope that if girls are encouraged to explore their inner scientist, they may be more likely to attend college and eventually seek college degrees, or even careers, in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.
There has been a need to get more girls interested in science, according to Kane. Although women have made great strides in their career pursuits in recent decades, they are still underrepresented in fields like math, engineering and the physical sciences and largely absent from the highest ranks of any of the science-related disciplines, she said.
Research also suggests that girls are generally not as interested in science and are not encouraged as much as boys to engage with scientific topics and coursework, with a big decline occurring in the middle school grades.
Girls’ Science Day aims to change that.
“In life sciences, women and men enter those majors and graduate schools at about the same rate, but then there is a gradual drop off of women as the career ladder progresses,” Kane said. “I think science is cool and I use events like Girls’ Science Day to show the girls how fun and interesting a career in science can be.”