Monday, April 17, 2017

Losing Gifted Scientists to Social Pressure

Retired NASA Chemist, Winifred Huo, was born in Guangzhou, China two weeks before the start of the Sino-Japanese war.  She recalls the first eight years of her life as looking for a safe place to live, and a place where her father could work. (see post one.) Winifred's highly-educated father was assigned to Guangdong to help build the impossible: the Burma Road. (see post two.) Two years after arriving, the Japanese invaded and the family had to make a quick escape. (see post three.) Thanks to Winifred's mother, despite all the moving about, Winifred excelled at her studies.  And, when she finally landed in Hong Kong for high school, she found her passion in the sciences.(see post four.) When she graduated--while the University of Hong Kong would not accept her because of some British rulings--she got a place at the University of Taiwan. (see post five.) In 1957, her father was offered an exchange post at Purdue University. This coincided with Sputnik--and was a time when America needed scientists--and he was offered a green card, the family was welcome to the U.S. (see post six.) She pursued graduate studies in science at the University of Chicago where she was often the only woman in the class. (post seven.)  Upon graduation, Winifred taught in a number of prestigious universities. (post eight.) In 1978, she found NASA, which turned into a lifelong rewarding career. (see post nine.)
Winifred said it was important for women to remember:
“You are as good as any man."
“There’s a program set up by the former astronaut Sally Ride—after she retired from NASA her focus was to try to understand why girls do not excel in engineering and science and how do you get them interested. I went to one of her seminars."
Astronaut Sally Ride on Sesame Street
"She said she went to schools and talked to kids. All kids love to talk to astronauts. She said before 3rd grade—3rd grade and below—she found boys and girls both asked questions, asked very similar questions. After 3rd grade you see the deviation. 
"First, boys asked more questions. The girls kept quiet. Or they asked less-relevant questions. It was more important for them to be interested in stuff that is considered, ‘womanly.’ 
"I was surprised.
“We lose half the population because of social pressure.  It’s very difficult for a young girl to fight social pressure. The only way to overcome it is to buddy with another girl who is, say, interested in science. You need companionship. You cannot fight it on your own."
(To be continued.  Next and final post: Immigrants Need to Join Society.)

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