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Radcliffe-Harvard program opens science and math study to women

Are women getting enough coaching as they race to keep up with an economy sprinting into the high-tech age? The number of women pursuing science and math degrees - and thus eligible to enter high-tech fields - is much lower than the number of men studying the same subjects. This has led many to wonder if some of the hard-earned victories women have won in the workplace will be forfeited in an economy increasingly reliant on those with math and science skills.

A unique summer program involving 37 high school girls from the United States and Canada is addressing that concern. Jointly sponsored by Radcliffe College and the Harvard Summer School, the seven-week program is designed to encourage high school girls to pursue their interest in science and earn college credit at the same time.

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Valerie Lee, assistant director, says the primary purpose of the program is to give girls who have already shown a sincere interest in science the additional encouragement that may be missing in their high schools.

''The stereotype that girls are not as naturally capable in science as boys is incorrect and misleading. Girls in high school and younger are dropping math and science courses in large numbers because they aren't usually encouraged or told that these subjects are of significance to them,'' says Ms. Lee. National SAT (Scholastic Acheivement Test) scores reflect this; girls' math scores average 50 points less than boys'.

In addition to two courses, the girls are learning outside the classroom by visiting important scientific centers in the area, such as Raytheon Company's laser and radar labs in Sudbury, the IBM Scientific Research Center in Cambridge , the robotics and artificial intelligence laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the Center for Astrophysics at Harvard.

Another dimension of the program, ''career conversations,'' is designed to present an accurate picture of a career as a woman scientist. Each Monday a woman scientist who has excelled in her field addresses the group, telling them about her work and how she progressed in her field.

Gretchen Jean-Carre of New York City, age 16, who says she wants to be a doctor, explains that the women scientists ''talk about some of their difficulties, such as working in a field dominated by men. Some of these women also tell about how they had to sacrifice getting married and having children because they wanted to continue with their research. They are very straightforward in telling us that the possibility of never having a family was difficult to face.''

Of course, some do have families; one woman scientist was accompanied by her child during her career conversation.

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