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Middle School Girls Get WISE About Science

By Used with permission from the Lowell Sun Online. By SUSAN McMAHON

LOWELL Rachel Isenberg folded over the corner of the paper once, then again.

In the quest for the perfect satellite made from paper, every corner counts.

The 12-year-old, with fellow students Mary Burke and Amy Francisco, was in the process of creating the most cost-effective, efficient paper satellite possible.

The workshop was one of 28 held yesterday as part of the annual Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) program, which draws more than 400 seventh- and eighth-grade girls from around the region.

The goal: to give girls hands-on experience in science, math and engineering early, to spark an interest that could turn into a career.

Some girls at yesterday's session already had the future on their minds.

"I think it will give us a better idea of what we're going to do when we grow up," said Isenberg, a seventh-grader from Ayer Middle School.

"It's very cool," added 12-year-old Francisco, of Groton-Dunstable Middle School.

The WISE program celebrated its eighth anniversary this year. Program director Ruth Tanner says letters will often come in from young women who participated in the program years ago, and are now starting on a scientific career path.

She hopes girls from this year's program take away similar experiences. By giving them role models in the sciences, by showing them that women can have a fulfilling career as an engineer and have a family, event organizers hope students begin to turn their thoughts toward careers in that direction.

"Hopefully, they can see themselves as these successful women," Tanner said.

Sponsors for the event included Philips Medical Systems in Andover, Genzyme and Lowell Sun Charities.

Overall, women are vastly underrepresented in the sciences, and Tanner hopes programs like WISE can turn the tide in the other direction.

And young women seemed to take to the programs immediately.

Throughout the UMass Lowell chemistry and biology buildings yesterday, girls were looking at blood samples from sick animals in one class, and analyzing weather patterns in another. In the hallways, a group of seventh- and eighth-graders formed a giant human knot, comprised of hands and arms held over and under each other, then tried to extricate themselves from their creation.

They also had the opportunity to interact with women working in the sciences, to get to know what their lives are like. Most often, students tend to ask how they make work and family co-exist.

"Their real concern seems to be, 'Can I have it all?' Our answer to that is yes," Tanner said.