Friday, November 7, 2014

Girls and STEM—How to encourage young women to study science

I read an editorial recently, “AcademicScience Isn’t Sexist,” that claims women aren’t facing discrimination in the academy as much as failing to make educational choices early on that include science.

According to researchers, from a young age girls tend to show more interest in people and animals compared to boys who tend to prefer building and playing with machines.  During adolescence as a
consequence, girls are less interested in engineering and computer science.  Even though girls earn higher grades than boys throughout the K-12 years, they are less likely to take advanced courses in physics and calculus.  In college this pattern continues. 

How can we break this cycle?

One way is to encourage girls to take more advanced level math and science courses in high school.  Another way is to encourage young women to take introductory science courses near the beginning of their college years.  If they do so, studies show that they are more likely to choose a math-intensive science major. 

Currently, women make up 80% of graduates from veterinary school and 70% of recent psychology PhDs.  Wouldn’t it be great if the percentage levels of their participation in engineering, computer science and physics could climb at least toward 50%?

In addition to encouraging your daughter to take more advanced math and science in school you might also suggest she enroll in a summer science enrichment program.  Two possibilities are:

COSMOS: California State Summer School for Mathematics and Science at the campuses of UC Santa Cruz, UC Davis, UC Irvine and UC San Diego

Sally Ride Science Camps at Stanford University, UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, Cal Tech and MIT

Thursday, October 30, 2014

College Readiness: Beyond the high school transcript

For the past few years, high school and college counselors have been emphasizing the importance of the non-cognitive, “soft” or life skills in preparing students for the college experience.  College readiness is simply not just about grades or test scores. 

As our daughters are now a college freshman and a high school junior respectively, I’m thinking about this issue from both sides of the matriculation doorway.  How do we best help our children develop the skills and fortitude they need to learn and live independently?
With some research and a lot of reflection I’ve come up with a list of skills and qualities I believe young adults need to develop to prepare for entering college:

(Click on each highlighted skill for a link to a relevant article/website)

1) Academic Strategies: Not the same as academic success, these are the learn-how-to-learn strategies such as study habits, class participation, and engagement with the teacher.

2) Practical Know-how: Does your high school student know how to do his/her own laundry, sew on a button, prepare a simple meal?

3) Financial Literacy: Students need to know how to handle money, manage a bank account and a budget, and handle a debit or credit card.

4) Social Confidence: This skill seems obvious, but many young adults have trouble navigating the college social scene—how to discuss disagreements with roommates, offer and accept invitations, make new friends, respond to peer pressure.

5) Resilience: Although this may be a popular buzz word, along with “grit,” these days, the ability to preserve through difficulties whether academic, social or emotional is key for college success.

Of course developing these qualities and skills takes time and practice. There is no one “test” to measure whether a student is successful.  Next time I’m stressing about my daughter’s calculus exam; nonetheless, I plan to focus more on her resilient attitude and study strategies and less on the grade she hopes to achieve.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Tips for writing your personal statement or college application essays

A personal statement or essay for a college application is a unique genre—a kind of autobiographical essay many students have not written before.  I define it as a kind of “story plus” with the “plus” being a reflection or self-evaluation of a pivotal experience in one’s life.
Here are some important considerations for students as they begin drafting their personal statements this college application season:

1) AUDIENCE---Who will read your personal statement?
Well, the admissions committee of every school you apply to, of course.  Generally there are two kinds of admissions officers—the recent grad and the seasoned director.  The recent grad is in touch with the current student body—and he/she can easily project how a candidate might you fit in. The veteran admission officer has no doubt seen or read it all.  It’s hard to impress him/her with an original or crazy story—so that should free you to write your own story without trying to find something extraordinary to write about.

2) VOICE---Consider the importance of writing in your own “voice.”
--Each writer’s sentence style and structure, choice of adjectives, and imagery is unique.  Writers communicate about themselves through content and style.  Both reveal personality.  Be authentic as you write.  Don’t try to imitate anyone else’s style or use sophisticated vocabulary if it’s not natural to you.
--Do be careful with a humorous tone or approach (in consideration of your dual audience, especially). 

3) STRUCTURE—Narrow your focus to write about on ONE incident or experience, not several.
--At least as important as the story you tell is how you evaluate it.  It’s not necessary to have sky-dived or invented a new video game—how you reflect on, or what you learned from the experience is more important.
--You are answering the prompt and “proving” an implicit thesis using specific examples from your own life to illustrate.  Avoid generalizations, quotations, narratives about other people.  Instead use details, action, dialogue. Admissions officers want to know about YOU.

General tips for writing an effective personal statement:
1)   Narrow and focus your topic to one incident or example.
2)    Answer the prompt.
3)    Be conscious of your audience.
4)    Use SPECIFIC examples and details throughout the essay.
5)    Save space for reflection.
6)    Be concise.
7)    Begin and end memorably.
8)    Edit carefully.

Finally, it’s a good idea to find someone who can be a trusted proofreader to catch the errors and typos you might overlook being too familiar with the draft.

Friday, September 12, 2014

News from the UC Counselors’ Conference Fall 2014

Today I attended the UC Counselors’ Conference sponsored by UC Berkeley and held at the San Jose Convention Center.  High school and community counselors as well as IECs (Independent Education Consultants) and non-profit program directors from all over the greater Bay Area attended. 

The information we gathered was similar to last year: a growing applicant pool, lower admission rates, new majors and facilities, and high rankings for UC professors in research.  An added concern among counselors seemed to be the increasing percentage of international and out of state applicants and acceptances—as high as 20% at UC Berkeley, lower at 7% for UC Santa Cruz, and an overall system average of 13%.  Our plenary speaker, Associate VP for Undergraduate Admissions Stephen Handel explained that these students bring both more diversity and money to the UC system.  Of course counselors, students, and parents are worried that this increase only makes the schools even more selective for in state applicants.

Still, there was a lot of good news to celebrate.  Many more resources are being devoted to attract low income and first generation college students and programs are being added for undocumented students, students for foster care, veterans and students with learning disabilities.  Several of the campuses are offering exciting new majors among them: Materials Chemistry at Berkeley, Sustainable Environmental Design at Davis, Exercise Science and Education Science at Irvine, Public Health at Merced, and Global Health at San Diego.  By the next application cycle all UC campuses will be using holistic review, which is a more flexible approach to evaluating student achievement and potential.

Here is a summary of advice for student applicants offered by VP Handel:

--Academics always matter.  Take the most rigorous—but balanced course load—you can handle at your high school.
--Take reasonable educational risks.
--For the personal statement be authentic rather than strategic.
--“If you shoot for the moon, plan for a campus on Earth.” (I paraphrase this to mean: Apply to schools for which you have a good chance of acceptance.  Have a Plan “B” if your top choice doesn’t work out.  You might even consider a gap year or applying to your chosen UC after attending community college.)

It’s always a good idea to visit a few or several UC campuses if you have a chance.  Several of the campuses are offering Fall Visit or Preview Days:
--UC San Diego: September 27, October 11 and November 1
--UC Merced: October 18
--UC Riverside: October 18, November 15
UCLA: September 20
Santa Cruz: October 25

Check the UC Admissions Website for more information about visiting and about each campuses academic programs and admissions advice.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Sierra Club's 2014 "Cool Schools"

I'm not a big fan of college ranking lists such as the one published by US News and World Report.

Eight years ago, however, the Sierra Club began publishing its list of "Cool Schools," or colleges and universities that have made the commitment to running an environmentally sustainable campus, and I think these schools are worth a look.

For one thing, the schools that rank high on the Sierra Club list are often schools with strong and innovative environmental programs, so if a student is interested in earth science of any sort, a "cool" school might be a good fit.  Also, as Sierra magazine points out, Cool Schools are places where "passionate, creative idealists" can make a difference--where students have a true voice and influence on institutional policy.

This year's top schools include University of California at Irvine, American University in Washington, D.C., and Dickinson College in Carlisle Pennsylvania.

Check out more "Cool Schools" here.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Launching Your Freshman off to College

Yesterday we took our oldest daughter to the airport to catch a plane to Boston.  She will soon start her first semester at Tufts University—and she won’t return home until just before Christmas.    Somehow, despite months of preparation, I wasn’t quite ready to let her go. . . 

This summer I did what I often do when faced with a new challenge—I read.  Here I will share an article and a few books I found helpful for this “off to college” transition:

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently featured a helpful, practical article, 

It offers several suggestions for gradually letting go of daily involvement in your now young adult’s life including—

--Be available to listen but initiate few phone calls.

--Let your child contact professors and administrators without your interference.

--Talk to your child about the difference between high school “homework” and college “coursework.” Explain the importance of the syllabus for each course and how professors are not as lenient or understanding about missed classes.

--Discuss the use and abuse of alcohol and drugs with your child before he/she leaves home.

--Make sure he/she knows how to do laundry.

--Create an online family calendar to help with scheduling.

Here are some books that contain good tips and information about college life and the transition to young adulthood:

The Naked Roommate For Parents Only: A Parent’s Guide to the New College Experience by Harlan Cohen (a companion version to the one for students, which  is also excellent)

The Launching Years: Strategies for Parenting from Senior Year to College Life by Laura Kastner and Jennifer Wyatt

I’m Going to College—Not You!  Surviving the College Search with your Child, Edited by Jennifer Delahunty (some amusing and some more philosophical essays on the college launch)

Good luck with the launching process—it’s an important transition both for the college freshman and for the family left behind.