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Mystery of the Missing Women in Science

Serge Bloch

Serge Bloch

Peter Ostrander, the tireless coordinator and cheerleader for a renowned science and mathematics magnet program at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Md., was not satisfied. Over the past few years, the pool of applicants had included nearly as many girls as boys, and the acceptance rate — based largely on test scores and grades — had followed suit.

Yet when it came to which of the invitees ended up choosing Blair’s magnet option over other offerings in the area, the scales tilted male. In 2012, for example, 80 percent of the eligible boys said yes, but only 70 percent of the girls. In 2010, the figures had been 93 percent and 56 percent.

Convinced the program could do better at pitching its product to girls, Mr. Ostrander recruited teams of upper-class girls last spring to call their hesitant young counterparts. Extol the wonders of the program, he said. Dispel the tired geek myths.

“The stereotype is out there that the magnet is filled with nerdy people,” he said. “Whatever that means.”

The upper-class students took to the phone banks with verve. (Full disclosure: my daughter was one of them.) They talked of fun, extracurriculars and sisterhood. They secured many yes votes and earned pizza and sandwiches — but still, fewer qualified girls than boys are entering the magnet this fall.

As a result, the demanding, gratifying, even thrilling four-year immersion in physics, chemistry, biology, calculus, computer science, astronomy, entomology, the proper use of power tools — and yes, the humanities and social sciences — remains almost two-thirds male.

Click here to read more from this September 2, 2013 New York Times article by Natalie Angier.

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