Sally Ride

Getting girls to groove on science

September 24, 2009: 6:00 AM ET

Men still outnumber women in science and engineering fields. Would a science-loving "Hannah Montana" type change that?

Ride says girls' interest in science slides by middle school. Photo: Sally Ride Science

Ride says girls' interest in science slides by middle school. Photo: Sally Ride Science

At Fortune's Most Powerful Women Summit last week I facilitated a conversation called "Making Science Cool." Specifically, we gathered to talk about making science cool for girls and young women as they contemplate areas of study and potential careers.

The discussion was led by Marissa Mayer, vice president search products and user experience for Google (GOOG), and Maria Siemionow, director, plastic surgery research at Cleveland Clinic. (Dr. Siemionow is perhaps best known for leading the surgical team that performed the first face transplant.)

For an hour more than a dozen women, including some pretty impressive scientists and engineers, shared their thoughts on how to make the sciences more appealing to girls.

It turns out girls, young ones at least, rather like science. Sally Ride, the first American woman to fly in space, weighed in with some interesting statistics. Ride noted that in fourth grade 68% of boys and 66% of girls report that they "like" science. (Many of the stats used by Ride, and citations, can also be found in this handbook, produced by Ride's company, Sally Ride Science.)

Yet by eighth grade, twice as many boys as girls show an interest in science careers. More

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