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Bronx Program Trains Next Generation of Women Scientists

By Jeanmarie Evelly | October 16, 2012 2:42pm

BEDFORD PARK — Natasha Reynoso, 17, has always been a scientist at heart.

“As a kid, I always asked questions,” said Reynoso, a senior at the Bronx Center for Science and Math. “But getting an answer was never enough.”

Now, Reynoso is getting to put that curiosity to work — in the laboratory. She’s one of seven students from across the Bronx to participate in the Women in Science program at Lehman College, which allows high schoolers to study and train at the school and work one-on-one with Lehman’s science faculty. The group presented their work to the public on Friday at the opening of Lehman’s new science building.

The program, launched this summer, aims to get more female students interested in science, engineering, technology and math — or STEM topics, as they’re known in academia. In the United States, women hold fewer than 25 percent of jobs in those fields, according to government statistics.

“Historically, women have been underrepresented in the STEM field, especially minority women,” said Dr. Ayanna Alexander-Street, Lehman’s assistant director of biological sciences, who helps run Women in Science.

The program partners with the Intel Corporation and College Now, which enrolls high school students in college-level courses at CUNY schools across the city. The seven students took a biology course at Lehman this summer, where they participated in seminars with professional scientists and took field trips to local institutions like the Bronx Zoo and the New York Botanical Garden.

The girls also spent their time preparing proposals for research projects, which they’ll work on at Lehman facilities’ during the course of the school year to compete in a science fair the school is hosting for Bronx high school students in February, called SciFest. The winner of that competition will score a four-year scholarship to Lehman, and the top 10 winners will go on to enter the New York City Intel Science and Engineering Fair.

“It’s been a really incredible experience,” said Keyko Sanchez, a 17-year-old senior at Lehman High School, whose research project involves a wire to power electric cars. “I want to contribute to clean energy.”

Kimberly Rodriguez, 17, a student at the Bronx's In-Tech Academy, is studying post-marital location patterns among young families in Kenya. DeWitt Clinton senior Amanda Simon is working with another student to examine how magnetic forces affect plant growth.

“I’m really excited to see how the project turns out,” Simon said.

Women in Science was started by Dr. Liesl Jones, chairwoman of the biology department, who was inspired by a similar program she participated in as a teenager at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute, which was geared toward getting girls interested in scientific research.

“It was extremely influential…It made me feel like this was something that was possible,” Jones said. “My goal is to keep these young women engaged and excited.”

So far, it seems to be working: not only are the young participants looking forward to the upcoming science fairs, they’ve got their eyes on top-notch colleges and beyond.

“I’ve always wanted to pursue a career in science. I like the facts and data,” said 16-year-old Edekira Liberato, a senior at DeWitt Clinton who says she doesn’t consider her gender an issue.

“It doesn’t have to be all men,” she said. “Women can do it, too.”