EYH began in 1959 by a dedicated group of forward-thinking women who were scientists on the UW-Madison campus. Since then, this conference has served young women in southern Wisconsin by providing them with hands-on activities led by female role models working in science, engineering, and math-related careers. Our goal is to inform middle school girls of the importance of acquiring good mathematical, analytical and scientific skills and of the great opportunities available to them if they pursue math or science careers.
Why have a science and math program for girls?
Fifty years ago, many people believed that a woman’s place was in the home. Surrounded by dishes, food, laundry, and the family, a woman was in her element, where she was comfortable and efficient. For women that worked outside the home, careers in teaching and nursing were popular.
This wasn’t the case for all women, of course. Here and there, a female professor or graduate student could be found tucked away among the beakers and radiographs of a laboratory, or hunched over an equation in a University building. Breaking the mold, these women followed their curiosity and investigated the world around them.
These women researchers and scientists began to notice something. With only 10% of doctoral degrees going to women, there was a lack of role models for girls. Without anyone like them to look up to, they might never consider that they could be a scientist, engineer, or mathematician. In 1959, the Madison branch of Sigma Delta Epsilon, or Graduate Women in Science, created an opportunity for young women to learn more about careers in science. Calling the program “High School Days,” they invited about 10 young women from local high schools to participate in a workshop that would allow them to learn about opportunities in science and math fields.
Dr. Anna Maria Williams, who was then a graduate student, describes High School Days as an opportunity to show young women that they could study science. It was a way to tell them “You can do it.”
Do girls still need encouragement to study science?
In 2009, girls still need to hear “you can do it” when it comes to careers in science. Although the National Science Foundation estimates that women now make up about 45% of doctoral degrees in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields, many young women still do not consider careers in science. Luckily for girls in the Madison area, High School Days has blossomed into something larger. The program now goes by the name Expanding Your Horizons (EYH), after joining forces with the national EYH program in 1981.
What is the program like?
Every November, EYH gives over 400 middle school girls an on-campus experience in a wide-range of science fields. Sigma Delta Epsilon is still an active sponsor, but the network has grown to include UW-Madison, Madison College, Edgewood College, and others.
Participants spend the day visiting labs and classrooms at UW-Madison, Edgewood, and Madison College, where they learn about a variety of careers available to them in the sciences. Everything from mathematician to microbiologist to food researcher and computer scientist. Workshop leaders are professors and researchers, and female undergraduate students serve as group leaders. The sessions give girls an opportunity to experience science in a hands-on environment and exposure to role models of all ages.
What about the future of the program? Aren’t there enough women in science now?
EYH gets a lot of support and there are always plenty of participants! Plus, young women still need encouragement in STEM fields. Although the number of women getting degrees in STEM fields has increased, information from the Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology reports that women only hold about 25% of jobs in STEM areas. Statistics show that in engineering, women only have about 14% of the jobs!
Additionally, there are differences in what men and women are paid. According to a 2008 study by The Scientist, male professors are paid about 23% more than female with the same experience. In addition, is also harder for women to get University jobs. They are often asked to provide more examples of their work and must have more published work.