Opening Minds and Doors at Dalton State

Although it was several decades ago, I experienced first-hand the challenges of pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees in a male-dominated science field. While females have made many strides in the workforce over the recent decades, the progress continues to lag in critical fields such as physical sciences, engineering and mathematics – along with college presidencies. It makes me wonder, would this college president be where she is today if she had closed her mind to math and science in middle school?

I am often asked why I majored in chemistry. My response is not what would be expected. I did not grow up fascinated by all things science. Rather, as the daughter of public school teachers, I grew up interested in learning new things, exploring and understanding the world.

As I got older, I also knew I needed to be able to support myself financially. Through a wide array of part-time jobs prior to and during college, I learned I wanted to pursue a career in something that engaged my mind – and kept my fair skin out of the sun and in an air-conditioned building. Chemistry was the first academic subject that challenged my mind in a way I had not previously experienced. And chemists seemed to work indoors in their laboratory.

Along the way, I had many teachers and professors who challenged me but who also encouraged me. One asked about my plans for graduate school after college and explained I could be paid to pursue a graduate degree in chemistry. So I did.

Because of the guidance I received, I am mindful of the need to help others to find their own successful career paths and fulfilling lives. Above and beyond my interest in studying chemistry is my desire to help shepherd and mentor others to be all they desire and can be. This passion for fostering talent in others is what led me to teach chemistry and eventually to become a college president. It is also why I believe it is important for Dalton State to provide our summer camps for local youth.

I am most excited by the STEM camp activities offered by Dalton State faculty and staff at a nominal cost. Community grants allow us to offer scholarships to deserving students whose families may not be able to afford camp.

I love seeing the excitement of young people for the sciences because I know many youths, especially females, close their minds to science and math careers around middle school.

My hope is we can stem the tide of young people who decide they can’t or don’t want to study science, mathematics or engineering because we need more people entering these career fields as our world becomes more technologically dependent. Employers in our area also tell us there is a great need for skilled workers in these fields right here at home.

Most girls lose interest in STEM-related fields between fourth and eighth grades, according to many research studies. Even if grades remain high in science and engineering classes, we know interest drops sharply during this time period. Camps, such as our Girls in STEM and Girls in STEM Jr., are imperative to creating a culture where females can have successful careers in those fields. Engaging young women at this important time helps see themselves in STEM careers and increases the likelihood of their pursuing these careers.

These are two of the many camps we offer each summer. We have also just wrapped up annual favorites such as Creek Critters and Stream Stomp, where children explore the wonders of a stream ecosystem. World of Science and our Nature Exploration at Lakeshore Park were popular again, and this year we added Engineering Explorers where students focused on subjects such as robotics and circuits. And these are only our STEM camps. We also helped sponsor literacy camps at area elementary schools and hosted an overnight camp for middle schoolers.

We know students who visit college campuses early and often begin to see themselves attending college one day. We want to create a culture of students in Northwest Georgia who aspire for higher education, especially in the career fields needed by this community. Engaging students is important work, and I’m thankful to all who played a role in these camps on our campus.