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John Alvin, MCT/Fresno Bee

Science is a girl thing

  • Article by: ANNIE FORSBERG
  • October 11, 2012 - 7:24 PM
As a kid, I always wanted to know how things worked. I was fortunate to grow up in a household where inquisitive thinking was encouraged and where projects that resulted in a big mess were considered just part of the learning process. My childhood helped me understand that the messes we make can lead to great things and gave me confidence to become an engineer and find work in a technical field.

I work at Flint Hills Resources, the region's leading producer of transportation fuels such as gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and other products. Science is at the core of what we do every day. We use it to develop cleaner-burning fuels and to meet growing energy needs while reducing emissions.

My company, like many others around the nation, is always looking for skilled engineers and other technical experts who have a background in science. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to find qualified individuals and harder yet to find qualified women applicants for many areas. This is unfortunate, because America needs innovative women and men to be able to solve the complex problems of modern society.

Nationally, women represent about half of the workforce, but only 24 percent of the workers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields are women. There are also fewer women than men seeking undergraduate STEM degrees.

Women make up just 21 percent of the students enrolled in the college of science and engineering at the University of Minnesota. If women don't become interested in STEM fields, they are left unqualified for a growing segment of the job market.

Such a situation also erodes our nation's future potential to innovate. One of the best ways to increase our nation's capacity in these fields is to get more girls interested in science and engineering.

So how can we encourage more girls (and boys) to go into STEM careers? We can help them to see that science can be really fun! We can help girls understand that to learn science, they have to test how things work.

Some experiments fail and some succeed -- both outcomes are acceptable as long as the experimenter understands why the result occurred. Breaking the perception that an experiment failure is unacceptable will help more girls gain confidence in learning higher-level science and math subjects.

Finally, we can help girls understand that most engineers work in groups or teams to solve complex problems. This is really important, because the social dynamic of a future job is important to many girls, as it is for me.

I am now in my sixth year of helping to coordinate the Flint Hills portion of the Fox9 Girls & Science event at the Science Museum of Minnesota on Saturday. I stay involved because when I see girls' faces light up while playing with an experiment and learning science concepts, it reinforces my belief that girls aren't naturally uninterested in science; many just aren't exposed to it enough, or they've been misinformed that it is "too difficult" or "boring."

Most of the girls attending this weekend's event will be of middle-school age. It's a delicate age, when girls begin to worry more about how they are perceived by others. So we need to convince them that it is acceptable to pursue degrees in science and technology and, further, give them the confidence that they can succeed in these subjects.

Please consider bringing the girls in your life to this fabulous event. Girls & Science will do its part by absorbing thousands of girls in unusual experiments and introducing them to inspiring women in science, engineering and technology.

Come make a mess.

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Annie Forsberg is a reliability engineer at the Flint Hills Resources Pine Bend refinery in Rosemount. She has worked for Flint Hills Resources for 12 years since starting there as a college intern.

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