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Young Women in Science

By Jennifer Bonck

 

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Since 1999, the Young Women in Science Program, developed by UK researchers at the Center on Drug and Alcohol Research, has encouraged young women from Appalachia to pursue careers in drug abuse research or other scientific fields. Fifty young women have participated in the program, which is supported by a $1.29 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a division of the National Institutes of Health.

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Sept. 18, 2002 (Lexington, Ky.) -- "Before I came down here, I knew I was interested in the science field," said Hannah Tackett. "Now I'm thinking maybe cancer research or disease control."

Hannah is not a scientific researcher or medical student, at least, not yet. She is a senior at June Buchanan High School in Pippa Passes, Ky. Young women such as Hannah, gifted with intelligence, curiosity and ambition, have taken part in an exceptional education program at the University of Kentucky Chandler Medical Center.

Since 1999, the Young Women in Science Program, developed by UK researchers at the Center on Drug and Alcohol Research (CDAR), has encouraged young women from Appalachia to pursue careers in drug abuse research or other scientific fields. Fifty young women have participated in the program, which is supported by a $1.29 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a division of the National Institutes of Health.

The participants have received training, education and mentoring over a three-year period. Each young woman also has earned a stipend and college scholarship upon completion of the three-year program.

Mentoring has been a key component of the initiative - established female leaders of both the local and scientific communities have supported the young women during the project.

"It is important that the young women make contacts with women who are succeeding in scientific and mathematically-based careers that are traditionally dominated by males," said Caroline Reid, program coordinator. "A mentor can confirm that society's pressures are real and also provide assurance that young women can conquer these obstacles."

Carl Leukefeld, professor and chair, department of behavioral science, UK College of Medicine, director of CDAR, and principal investigator for the grant, notes that it is crucial to nurture math and science interest among girls early.

"We know that when women get into high school and college, they move away from sciences and math," he said. "This project provides scientific education and mentoring to attract more young women to scientific fields."

While young women and men in high school are enrolled in approximately the same number of science courses, young men are more likely than young women to take courses in all three core scientific areas - biology, chemistry and physics. This disparity continues into the work force, particularly in Appalachia, where women typically tend to gravitate toward what many consider traditionally female occupations.

Leukefeld will follow Hannah and the other young women for at least the next five years to see what effect the program has on their education and career paths.

The data from this project will be used to develop a curriculum manual for subsequent programs. The National Science Foundation has awarded Leukefeld and CDAR funding for a similar project for seventh-grade girls from Eastern Kentucky. Recruitment of rising seventh-graders will begin next summer.

Those that have participated in the program are excited about the opportunities that such initiatives offer to young women. "It's really given me more ideas," said Lateisha Osley, 16, from Magoffin County. "It's good that they're giving Eastern Kentucky women a chance."

For more information about the Young Women in Science Program and other programs at CDAR, call (859) 323-3058.


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