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Maine Joins National Effort to Better Help Girls Explore Math/Science Careers

Contact: Sharon Barker, (207) 581-1501
Tom Weber, (207) 581-3777

ORONO — For more than 25 years, myriad organizations have sprouted up in Maine and the nation to encourage more girls to study science and math in school and make their careers in these traditionally male-dominated fields.

All too often, however, the groups wind up working toward the very same goals independently of one another, rarely collaborating on projects or sharing resources and methods that could make their common missions much more effective.

The University of Maine’s Women’s Resource Center (WRC) hopes to change that by establishing a first-ever formal network of state organizations whose aim is to create more opportunities for girls in science, technology, engineering and math. This new regional clearinghouse will allow disparate groups and individuals to not only find one another within the state but to tap into a national database of like-minded programs and better identify gaps in services.  

“There’s a lot going on in Maine, and this will help strengthen all of the state’s girl-serving initiatives,” Sharon Barker, the WRC director, said recently in announcing the university’s role in the national effort.  

The National Girls Collaborative Project, funded by the National Science Foundation, is the outgrowth of a pioneering program begun in 2002 by the Puget Sound Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology. Called the Northwest Girls Collaborative Project, its purpose was to help organizations in Washington and Oregon address the complex issue of gender equity in the fields of science and math.

The successful program was copied two years later in California, Massachusetts and Wisconsin, and offered nationwide last year with regional oversight and additional funding from the American Association of University Women (AAUW.)

As part of the effort, UMaine’s WRC will receive more than $28,000 to coordinate the state inventory, establish an advisory board, set up conferences and forums, and provide mini-grants to individual projects.   

“We’ve had programs and conferences in the country for the last 20 or 30 years,” Barker said, “but there’s never been any formal evaluation of them so we could know if what we’re all doing is the most effective approach. This would provide the infrastructure to do that.”

A public presentation by Karen Peterson, who heads the national project, will be held Nov. 29, at 2 p.m., at the Buchanan Alumni House, to explain the initiative and UMaine’s involvement. On March 10, two leadership team members and an AAUW representative will travel to Seattle, Wash., to learn how to get the program off the ground. Maine’s kick-off conference will be scheduled for sometime next fall.

Barker said the WRC’s long experience in working for economic and educational equity, and the university’s unique land-grant mission of public service, make UMaine well-suited to lead the three-year initiative. Among its many projects, the center organizes the annual Expanding Your Horizons Conference — the 22nd will be held in March — that brings hundreds of middle-school girls to campus to learn about career opportunities in math and science while interacting with female role models working in those fields.

“This project is a way to leverage all our efforts in Maine,” Barker said, “and make sure we’re all plugged in so we get the biggest bang for the buck in serving the interests of girls in the state.

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