BC Unveils Women in Science & Technology Program
Senior spearheads initiative to spur girls' interest in science
By Patricia Delaney
Deputy Director of Public Affairs
When Boston College biochemistry major Elizabeth O'Day was invited to speak about the sciences at a local high school last spring, she was chagrined to learn that many of the girls in the audience found science too boring or too difficult.
That's when O'Day, a multiple scholarship winner who has wanted to be a biochemist since the seventh grade, decided something had to be done to give teenage girls a new appreciation of the scientific process and, ultimately, excite them about making science part of their lives.
Now, almost a year later, BC is hosting a new initiative spearheaded by O'Day that she hopes will encourage female high school students from the Boston area to consider a career in science. Dubbed "Women in Science & Technology" (WST), the program will bring 30 students from three high schools to BC every Saturday this month for research, lectures, field excursions and the opportunity to meet both mentors and role models across scientific disciplines.
O'Day said she is determined to share her own experience as a woman in science, which she noted has been a source of inspiration and opportunity.
"Science allows you to be creative, to be independent, to come up with a cool idea and follow it through," said O'Day. "And working in the sciences at BC - with great faculty, great equipment, great resources and support - has dramatically altered my life."
O'Day's work in science has already landed her several coveted scholarships. In 2005 she received a Goldwater Scholarship, considered the premier undergraduate science fellowship. She recently learned that she won a Winston Churchill Scholarship, which would support her graduate work at Britain's Cambridge University next year, and has been recommended for a Fulbright award to study in India [see separate story].
Prof. Mary Roberts (Chemistry) said she is not surprised that O'Day, an aspiring cancer researcher and starting fullback on the BC women's rugby team, would receive such honors.
"She's fantastic. She is a ball of energy, exceptionally bright and one of the best people I know at helping others," said Roberts. "Over here in Chemistry we think the world of her."
Roberts is among several female BC faculty and undergraduates whom O'Day recruited to help out with WST this month.
The month-long Saturday series begins this Saturday and is offered free of charge to the participants from Braintree High School, which O'Day attended, Fontbonne Academy in Milton and Trinity Catholic High School in Newton.
The high schoolers will arrive on campus each Saturday at 10 a.m. and spend several hours working on research projects with approximately 20 female BC science undergraduates whom O'Day asked to serve as mentors. Roberts, Chemistry Labs Director Lynne O'Connell and Assoc. Prof. Clare O'Connor (Biology) will oversee the projects, which include DNA-mediated nanocrystal synthesis, mosquito gene cloning and visualizing cellular localization of viral proteins, among others.
Afternoons will be devoted to sampling career paths, through a lecture by a forensics scientist from the State Police Crime Lab, a trip to BC's Weston Observatory and travel to local biotech giant Genzyme. On the last Saturday, Feb. 25, several guest speakers will discuss what it means to be a woman and a scientist. The series will conclude March 1 with an awards night for the participants and their parents.
More than 70 high school students applied for the 30 available slots in the program, and final selections were made by O'Day and the other BC mentors.
"The support I've received for WST is truly inspiring," she said, noting as examples the number of faculty who have offered time and lab materials, the undergraduates who volunteered to be mentors, the T-shirts participants will receive courtesy of BC's Women's Resource Center and the notebooks and folders to be supplied by the BC Bookstore. "This experience has shown me anything is possible."
Both O'Day and Roberts said they hope the program lives on after the senior has graduated.
"I think this could be a real niche for BC and it's something I hope BC students will continue," Roberts said.