April 4, 2003

Female Aerospace Engineer From NASA Addresses GEM-SET Event at UCSD to Encourage More Girls in Science

When Aprille Ericcson, an aerospace engineer at NASA headquarters/Goddard Space Flight Center and the first African American female to receive a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Howard University, first set out on a career in science, her desire to succeed was strong but the challenges were many.

“Entering high-tech fields such as science, engineering and technology is tough by any standards, but it’s especially challenging for females since they often have very few role models in these careers and are not strongly encouraged to enter such fields as young girls,” says Ericcson.

She spoke to area high school girls recently at the University of California, San Diego as part of an event sponsored jointly by the Women’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor and UCSD to establish the first GEM-SET (Girls’ E-Mentoring in Science, Engineering & Technology) outreach program in San Diego.

NASA aerospace engineer Aprille Ericcson, Ph.D. (center), interacts with area high school girls as students participate in an engineering project at a GEM-SET mentoring event sponsored recently at UCSD by the Women's Bureau and the university.

GEM-SET is a nationwide electronic mentoring program conducted by the Women’s Bureau to encourage more young women to enter science, engineering and technology fields.

“Bringing girls together in a stimulating program like GEM-SET is very important,” says Ericsson, “in that it connects them with women mentors in a wide variety of high-tech fields, allowing them to communicate together on a host of topics, including educational preparation needed for these careers, career opportunities, and encouragement to pursue such fields.”

The event at UCSD, part of a nationwide effort by the Women’s Bureau to introduce GEM-SET activities to more girls between the ages of 16 and 18, included student representation from such area schools as Eastlake High School, Crawford High School, Hoover High School, Lincoln High School, Mount Miguel High School and San Diego High School.

In GEM-SET, girls from nearly all 50 states and the District of Columbia communicate via email with a network of women mentors from a myriad of fields and employers in science, engineering and technology, explains Kelly Jenkins-Pultz of the Women’s Bureau’s San Diego office. “Girls and mentors receive one e-mail message each weekday, called the Daily Digest, which contains questions or answers from GEM-SET girls and mentors. Girls read digests at least once a week and then email mentors with additional questions.” Currently, more than 500 girls nationwide participate in GEM-SET.

At UCSD, Kathy Kailikole, assistant director of the Office of Academic Support and Instructional Services (OASIS) and who helped coordinate the GEM-SET event, adds: “UCSD is proud to be a partner with the Women’s Bureau in its effort to encourage more young girls to enter the fields of science, engineering and technology. We see this effort as complementing our own K-12 math and science outreach programs under UCSD Student Affairs in San Diego and Imperial Counties, and we look forward to introducing young girls in these programs to GEM-SET activities.”

For more information on GEM-SET and how to participate, contact Kelly Jenkins-Pultz at the Women’s Bureau’s San Diego office: (619) 230-8110, or jenkins-pultz-kelly@dol.gov.

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