WD sparks student interest in math, science

More than 150 middle-school girls spend the day in hands-on, fun-filled workshop

WD sparks student interest in math, scienceNAWS CHINA LAKE — More than 150 middle-school young ladies spent the day at a Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division lab on March 9 for the 12th annual Expanding Your Horizons Conference.

Rear Adm. Paul Sohl, NAWCWD commander, and Scott O’Neil, NAWCWD executive director, kicked off the event and welcomed the girls from the local schools as well as Kernville, Lone Pine, Bakersfield and Victorville.

Sohl told the girls he wanted three things from them that day: be safe, jump in with both feet to engage and ask questions and “thank your parents for getting you here.”

O’Neil stressed the importance of science and engineering to the security of the United States, and reinforced the need to develop scientists and engineers in this country.

“The most important thing is for these girls to see professional women in these fields,” O’Neil said. “They need to know that they can do this too. If we get one girl out there to get excited about science and engineering and pursue that field in earnest, that’s a winner.”

As the featured speaker, Bertha Ryan, a former China Laker, described her lifelong passion for flying and asked those in attendance if they have found their passion yet.

“I found mine, and it was aviation,” said Ryan, who shared her memories of the first time she ever saw an airplane as a young girl. “I looked inside the door up to where the pilot sat and I was thrilled. I was impressed, and at that moment I decided aviation would be in my life.”

EYH is designed to heighten middle-school girls’ awareness of to the importance of adequate math and science preparation. The Ridgecrest Women of Math and Science Inc. hosted the conference with support from more than 85 volunteers throughout NAWCWD and the local community.

“There is a large team of volunteers who put in hours and days and weeks of effort to coordinate this event,” said Susie Raglin, director of NAWCWD Corporate Operations and emcee for EYH. “They are all driven by a common passion – they have experienced a wonderful journey because of their interest in science, technology, engineering and math, and they want to create that same thing for these middle-school girls.”

Each attendee participated in three out of 19 hands-on workshops. Scientists and engineers from NAWCWD, and community professionals led workshops on archaeology, aerodynamics, gravity, veterinary medicine, satellite imagery, forensic science, Navy construction, genetic research, robotics, encryption, marine biology and parachute design.

“Today was really fun,” said Murray Middle School student Grace Williams of her first time at EYH. She said her favorite workshop was “Will Pooh Go Splat?” because she was able to design a harness and attach it to a parachute for a large stuffed animal that was dropped off the top of the McLean Lab. Grace, who wants to be a surgeon when she grows up, said she is looking forward to attending EYH next year.

Traci Larson, with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, volunteered as a guest speaker at EYH for a second year because she wants to help generate interest in school and science.

“A lot of times young people, especially young girls, don’t understand that they can be anything they want to be,” Larson said. “It doesn’t matter what race you are, what size you are; I want to motivate these kids to go after their dreams.”

Alyse Dannenberg, a NAWCWD aerospace engineer, said “Even if they decide not to pursue a science, technology engineering or math career, at least they will have more of an appreciation for the people who do.”

This was the first year Ryan Cranston, computer scientist at NAWCWD, volunteered with

EYH. He helped with the “Get Wired” workshop where the students learned what math has to do with electricity.

“I think it’s important for society as a whole that everyone, not only women, be more interested in science and technology,” he said.

Roxanne Quintana, an analytical chemist at NAWCWD, led the “Mix it up” workshop, and said she didn’t expect the students to leave with a thorough understanding of chemistry.

“My goal is for the kids to equate science with fun so when they have an opportunity to try something new or take a class, maybe they’ll consider it,” she said.

Ryan closed her speech with words of encouragement about following dreams.

“If you find your passion and you find something that you love to do and you work hard and use obstacles as stepping stones, you can make your dreams come true,” Ryan said.

“Whatever your passion, whatever you want to do, soar as high as you can in your life, your studies and your hobbies.”

Story First Published: 2013-03-13