Mentoring to extreme heights: Carolyn Smith, right, science chair for the El Dorado School District, measures a ‘World Tower,’ created by El Dorado High School students and mentors, during a Million Women Mentors event at South Arkansas Community College. The MWM is a mission of Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin designed to encourage girls to enter STEM (Science, technology, engineering and math) fields and he was the keynote speaker during the kick-off event Friday.
EL DORADO — Twenty-four El Dorado High School female students were asked to write down the names of well-known scientists. They were then asked how many of those scientists were women.
Marie Curie, Rosalind Franklin, Jane Wright, Florence Nightingale, Dian Fossey, Jane Goodall, Barbara McClintock, Margaret Mead and Clara Barton were just a few of the female scientists mentioned by Susan Johnson, who works in the Education Renewal Zone and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) Education Center at Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia.
To kick-off Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin’s Million Women Mentors initiative in El Dorado on Friday at South Arkansas Community College, Dr. Barbara Jones, president of SouthArk and other members of the staff at the school talked about the importance of STEM courses and Griffin encouraged girls to enter STEM fields.
Most of the EHS students attending the kick-off had participated in GLAMS – Girls Learning About Math and Science – when they were eighth graders. GLAMS was started six years ago in El Dorado and every year, SouthArk employees, members of the GLAMS Committee, El Dorado Education Foundation, the El Dorado School District and local and area donors and volunteers host a day of learning to encourage eighth grade girls to take STEM courses and pursue careers in those fields.
Johnson also told those at the MWM kick-off in El Dorado that a female scientist discovered pulsars – but the 1974 Nobel Prize went to her male supervisor. Another female scientist, Barbara McClintock, discovered “jumping genes,” in the 1950’s but didn’t receive recognition for her accomplishment until 1983, when she was awarded a Nobel Prize.
Vernita Morgan, a member of the SouthArk faculty, mathematics and a GLAMS committee member, talked about the female NASA scientist, Katherine Johnson – who was one of three African American women at NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) who “served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history – the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit.”
Johnson and two other African American scientists at NASA – Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson – will be featured in the movie, “Hidden Figures,” which is based on a true story and expected to appear in theaters in late December or early January.
Known for accuracy in computerized celestial navigation, Johnson’s technical leadership work at NASA spanned decades where she calculated the trajectories, launch windows and emergency back-up return paths for many flights from Project Mercury, including the three early NASA missions of John Glenn, Alan Shepard and the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the moon. She calculated the trajectory for the space flight of Alan Shepard, the first American in space in 1959.
In 1962, when NASA used electronic computers for the first time to calculate John Glenn’s orbit around Earth, officials called on her to verify the computer’s numbers because Glenn asked for her personally and refused to fly unless Katherine verified the calculations, Morgan said.
“Just about everything in our lives involves STEM,” Griffin said, adding, “It existed before we called it STEM. We can’t get away from STEM, but we wouldn’t want to. We need to have young people be passionate about STEM, or we can’t compete,” with surrounding states and countries throughout the world for STEM jobs.
Griffin said the MWM is sponsored by Walmart and the goal is to expose young people to different fields. “STEM is fun – electronics, equipment, computers, designing robots. People with STEM backgrounds are in high demand,” in the workforce, he said. The initiative focuses on girls and women “because they are really smart and a critical part of the workforce. There are lots of young ladies that if they are encouraged in STEM – they might say yes” to careers in those fields. “We are here to encourage you to make informed decisions,” he said.
“It takes good mentors to shape our careers and STEM is the wave of the future,” said Michael Turner, senior manager, infrastructure operations with Walmart. He said by the end of 2018, the goal is to have one million people pledge to be mentors. To be a mentor, Turner said go to the MWM website and sign up to participate.
The initiative has been launched in several cities in Arkansas, including El Dorado, Little Rock, Fort Smith, Hot Springs, Bentonville and Pine Bluff.
Christy Wilson, a math instructor at SouthArk, introduced Abigail Davis, a SouthArk non-traditional student. She said her mom mentored her in math and science, but she didn’t enroll in college classes immediately after high school graduation. “I was afraid to start college,” she said, explaining that after she started taking classes, “I realized it was fun – it’s fun to learn and process technology.” Davis, an associate of arts/pre-engineering major, thanked Wilson and Morgan for encouraging and mentoring her.
Alice Mahony, vice president of the El Dorado Education Foundation and a GLAMS committee member, explained that women employed in STEM fields attend the one-day conference to tell eighth grade girls about their careers. Earlier this year, at the sixth GLAMS Conference, over 200 girls came from five counties in Arkansas and hundreds of volunteers and speakers participated to encourage girls in STEM fields.
At the conclusion of the kick-off, Carolyn Smith, science chair for the El Dorado School District, handed out packets with plastic drinking straws and tape and instructed students and mentors to work as a team and build a tower using only those materials in the bags – a “Mentoring to Extreme Heights” experiment.