Special Report 2011
In This Issue:
March 8, 2011 marked the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, a day on which thousands of events are held around the world to inspire women and celebrate achievements. One of the key themes this year is equal access for women to education, training and science and technology.
While women have made great strides in these areas over the past 100 years, especially in the U.S., many countries around the world still do not encourage women to learn and grow. In Africa, for instance, young girls are often expected to marry at age 14, never getting the opportunity to finish school or start a career. The irony is that by holding women back, countries are literally preventing their own progress. Research shows that women tend to share their knowledge and success with the communities in which they live and work—and with their families—much more so than men. According to the World Bank, which supports developing countries, “Girls’ education yields some of the highest returns of all development investments, yielding both private and social benefits that accrue to individuals, families and society at large.” In other words, educate a woman and you educate a nation.
During this month, remember to celebrate the women in your life and all that they achieve. Read on for a story of one New Jersey teen who has found a powerful way to make a difference for young women in the world—through education.
Like most teens, Shannon McNamara once owned a small tree worth of pencils. They were buried in her backpack and under couch cushions and sticking out from holders on her desks at school and home. After all, they’re just pencils, right?
Think again, says Shannon, a senior at Ridge High School in Basking Ridge who has never looked at pencils quite the same since visiting Tanzania, Africa with her family in 2008. “We saw girls walk in bare feet or tattered shoes miles to school and then sit three students to one desk,” notes Shannon, 17. “You give them a pencil and they will break it into three pieces to share with their friends because school supplies are so limited there. All of this drove home the fact that here are some people so willing to get an education and it just breaks your heart that some of them will be married at age 14 and won’t be able to continue it.”
So Shannon decided to be part of the solution. In 2008 she founded SHARE, Shannon’s After-school Reading Exchange, a nonprofit organization whose original mission was to ship books to help educate girls in Tanzania. Some 23,000 books later, SHARE moved on to building and renovating schools and libraries and setting up SHARE Scholars, a scholarship to help young girls afford to continue their education beyond elementary school.
Shannon, who will be attending Rice University in the fall with hopes of studying
sociology, anthropology and philosophy, has been labeled queen of the “philanthro-teens,” a young person who puts down her iPod Touch and cell phone to instead “engage in social entrepreneurship in previously unimaginable ways.” What’s this all about? Shannon believes she and her peers are chasing a feeling that even the most high tech of toys can’t satisfy. “I get what’s called the helper’s high when I give back,” says Shannon. “It might seem like you’re giving up your time to help someone else, but really the joy and gratitude that you get from that person helps you so much more. The secret of the helper’s high is out.”
Shannon plans to always have SHARE in her life, even when the college workload gets heavy. And she and her family are headed back to Tanzania this summer. Ultimately, she sees herself in a career that involves suitcases and an adventurous spirit. “I want a job where I’ll be able to travel,” says Shannon. “A dream job would be a photojournalist with Nicholas Kristof and to be able to travel the world, report and take pictures and write about what I see there and make sure everybody else will get the chance to see it too.”
Read an expanded version of this article by visiting http://www.njnextstop.org, clicking on the Real People’s “View All” feature and selecting “Shannon McNamara.”
Shannon McNamara’s story is pretty inspiring and might motivate you to want to take action. A great place to start is Girl Up!, a campaign launched this past fall by the United Nations Foundation that gives American girls the opportunity to channel their energy and compassion to raise awareness and funds for programs of the United Nations that help some of the world’s hardest-to-reach adolescent girls.
The amazing statistic is that there are 1.2 billion young people ages 10-19 in the world today, and more than half are adolescent girls living in developing countries that don’t have the same opportunities that girls in America have. Girl Up gives you lots of ways to get involved, from spreading the word about the campaign on Facebook to submitting your story about how you’ve helped girls everywhere. This is a campaign “for girls by girls.” Check out the Resource Corner below to discover how you can learn more.
The federal government recently released the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress, a report titled “The Nation’s Report Card.” The country’s science grade? A solid F.
High school seniors showed the worst results, with 40 percent receiving the lowest score possible. Just 21 percent of 12th graders were deemed “proficient,” while the percentage of “advanced” students could be counted with the fingers on one hand.
President Barack Obama talks up the importance of nurturing better science students to help the U.S. compete globally any chance he gets. Stories of high school students—especially women—making advancements in science and technology are particularly meaningful these days.
This past September, the campus of St. Peters College in Jersey City was buzzing with excitement and technology. The college officially opened its Center for Microplasma Science and Technology, the first and only scientific and educational center devoted entirely to the emerging field of microplasma research in the U.S. What’s that? Microplasmas, tiny discharges of ionized gas, have the ability to clean contaminated air and water, sterilize medical equipment and do lots of other cool things.
Shubika Sivaram, 18, got up close and personal with microplasma shortly after graduating from Union City High School last June. Shubika, now a biochemistry major at St. Peters, interned at the new center to brush up on her research skills. “The summer of my junior year I did organic chemistry research at Seton Hall,” says Shubika. “To follow up, I decided to do research in physics.” The name of Shubika’s project? Ozone Generation and Volatile Organic Compound Instruction Using Dielectric Barrier Discharge. Huh? “Basically this study was focused on removing stains from clothing—surface treatment and removal of VOCs [Volatile Organic Compounds] from the environment using plasma,” explains Shubika. “It was a great opportunity. The technology was very advanced. One of the machines is like a quarter of a million dollars so you had to be very careful. I didn’t want to break anything!”
Why study science and technology? Jose Lopez, director of St. Peters College’s Center for Microplasma Science and Technology, has this to say: “As society becomes more and more technologically advanced and further dependent on new technologies, there becomes a more pressing need to have people educated in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers. Without young people being educated in STEM careers, progress would stop and there would be no new technological advances to sustain our modern society.”
Read an expanded version of this article by visiting http://www.njnextstop.org, clicking on the Advice 101 column’s “View All” feature and selecting “Working with Top Technology.”