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Where are the future scientists?

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The problem is, she'd rather be a lawyer.

"Science is boring; I want to argue with people, just like Reese Witherspoon," Karyn says, referring to the actress who played a Harvard Law School student in the film "Legally Blonde." Standing in the glittery, high-ceilinged headquarters of IBM, just down the road from Harvard, Karyn tugs at her braids - the product of five hours in a salon the night before - and sneaks a glance at her mother. "I thought I'd like astronomy, but the teacher made it boring," she insists.

That Karyn fancies pretty-in-pink over lab-rat-with-microscope is no surprise to the science world. The real puzzle: How to pique her curiosity. That it takes so much effort speaks to the preconceptions many kids have already formed about science.

"Even if girls are doing well, they're still not choosing to go into this career area," says Cathleen Finn, community relations program manager for IBM in Cambridge. "We have to work on breaking down the stereotypes about what it means to be a technical woman."

What the camp must do, Ms. Finn says, is expose the students to role models. Each girl is assigned a mentor at the beginning of the week, a professional woman they correspond with throughout the year. The idea is to get these girls to see that science careers are not only open to them, but every bit as cool as anything Reese Witherspoon can do. "If they don't see someone in that role, it's like, 'Well, how do I do it?' " Finn says.

Many of the students at the EXITE camp have been selected because their teachers see a particular curiosity, a spark that special attention and a nurturing environment might kindle into something truly great.

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