September 2019
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COMETS Program Connects HMS Girls to Science

It’s fairly rare to witness a comet in the night sky.  And to a certain degree, the same can be said for females in many STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) careers.

A 2011 report by the U.S. Department of Commerce indicates that only one of every seven engineers is female.  Just 27 percent of jobs in the computer science industry today are held by women.  Theories abound as to why females are underrepresented in STEM careers, but one thing is certain – there is both a need and opportunity for improvement.  And that’s just what a new program sponsored by Penn State New Kensington aims to address.

COMETS, which is an acronym for “Courses On Math, Engineering, Technology, and Science,” is being offered by PSNK to more than 30 middle school age girls from Burrell and other districts as a way to introduce bright female minds to the limitless career possibilities in STEM.

COMETS is a multi-faceted program that includes on-line mentoring, special events, workshops, and presentations by female professionals in STEM careers.  Its goals are to get talented female students to understand the myriad career opportunities available in science today, and become more engaged in the academic courses necessary to succeed in these fields.

Debra Novak, who oversees the COMETS program at PSNK, comments on the impact it is having in its first year. “Feedback has been extremely positive,” says Ms. Novak.  “Parents are impressed with the enthusiasm their daughters bring back from the presentations.  We have a wonderful group of mentors in a wide variety of careers who share their experiences.  They open doors to opportunities the girls were unaware of prior to COMETS.”

HMS 7th-grader Shannon Ryan, who has a strong interest in math and science, says the new program has inspired her to pursue advanced courses like AP Biology when she enters high school.  “I find it interesting.  I just want to try the hardest classes to see if I can do it.”

The program’s on-line mentoring component has helped 7th-grader Delaney Markle identify potential career options in architectural engineering and sports medicine.  “Science and math are my favorite subjects – they just interest me more than reading and English,” she explains.

Delaney’s classmate, Erica Walters, says that she had no idea what career field might interest her before enrolling in the COMETS program.  But through discussions with her mentor, Erica now believes that veterinarian science could be part of her future.  “I really want to get a path that I can follow career-wise.  I think by starting now, I will get a head start on my future.”

HMS educators, including guidance counselor Kristy McCurdy, believe programs like COMETS support their mission of getting students to think about their futures even before high school.   “I think the middle school students don’t always understand how quickly they are going to have to make decisions and choices regarding career areas that interest them,” she says.

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