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Women in Science and Mathematics Conference held

The Dean of Science and Mathematics, Dr. Robert T. Smith, welcomed participants from surrounding junior and senior high schools along with the world renowned keynote speaker Dr. Rosina Bierbaum, to the 23rd Annual Glenna Hazeltine Women in Science and Mathematics Conference.

Dr. Bierbaum, Dean of the School of Natural Resources at the University of Michigan since 2001, was named by President Barack Obama to the president’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, and currently serves on the boards of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research; the National Research Council’s Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate; the Federation of American Scientists; the Environmental and Energy Study Institute; the Energy Foundation; and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

Dr. Bierbaum said her inspiration to pursue a career in science as a child living in the “smoggy steel town,” of Bethlehem, Pa. came to her when she read Rachel Carson’s “The Sea Around Us” and “Silent Spring” as a 13-year-old.

Now an established author on the impacts and solutions of global climate change, she was selected in April 2008 to co-direct the World Bank’s 2010 World Development Report.

Receiving her B.S. in Biology and B.A. in English from Boston College, Dr. Bierbaum earned her Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolution at the State University of New York.

Dr. Bierbaum said she was “happy as a clam” when she finished work as a graduate student, studying the symbiotic relationship between the pea crab and a mussel.

It was assumed since the time of Aristotale, according to Dr.Bierbaum, that the relationship was commensal, where the crab benefits while the mussel is unharmed. However, she found that in a polluted area, the little crab’s presence in the mussel was as a parasite, causing harm to its host.

Urged by Dr. Bentley Glass that “no scientist is worth their weight unless they learn how to inform policy,” Dr. Bierbaum went on to win a Congressional Fellowship in 1980.

When Dr. Bierbaum first arrived in Washington, she was disappointed that scientists could not translate chemical equations to the language of policy maker.

Sharing lessons she learned along the way, Dr. Bierbaum said science is not the loudest of voices, and its role in policy should be used wisely to inform policy in simple terms, but not write policy.

Acknowledging the role of advisory councils, media, and lobbyists in the political process, she said that it is important to be very specific, and consider timing.

“When diplomacy and science meet timing is everything,” Dr. Bierbaum said.

In October 2000, when she released a report on global climate change, it was deemed as political, not as scientific in the midst of heated election debates.

“We can all have our own opinion, but we cannot have our own facts,” said Dr. Bierbaum, affirming the scientific credibility of global climate change.

Through her experiences in Washington, Dr. Bierbaum was taught K.I.S.S., meaning “keep it simple stupid.”

Seeing congress glaze over as scientists described very complicated ecosystems, Dr. Bierbaum explained the affects of global warming in way that others could understand. In terms of the annual Cherry Blossom Festival needing to be moved up one week, she demonstrated how spring comes earlier, fall later, and brought legislators personal recognition of the unsustainable trend of global warming.

The graphical profile of temperatures over the past 1,000 years was projected on a screen, followed by the increasing profile of carbon dioxide, as Dr. Bierbaum explained that temperatures may increase up to five degrees Celsius due to global green house gas emissions.

“It is helpful to think of the atmosphere like a tub,” said Dr. Bierbaum, as she used a graphic to relate the projected temperature change from the increasing rate of green house gases filling the atmosphere to the minimal rate of depletion of these gases, depicted as a drain.

Showing a world map of emissions to demonstrate inequality in responsibility, she related U.S. emissions to China’s, which are 10 times the U.S. amount, and Bangladesh’s, which are one fourth of the U.S emissions.

Dr. Bierbaum then drew students’ attention to the scientific proof that “earth cannot cope” with unsustainable practices, and to the global impact and responsibility for global climate change by challenging their generation to finish the job of finding solutions for this global economic and environmental issue.

“I thought it was very interesting. I learned a lot. I didn’t know how serious our global problem is,” said Sarah Sandkuhler, a seventh grade student at Warwick middle school.

Schools were invited to select four young women and a teacher to attend the conference, and according to Dr. Charles Wolf, the conference has become so popular that a there is a rotating invitation list to schools.

Students and teachers attended four additional lectures and a scientific demonstration.

Mrs. Cynthia Gulya, a mathematics teacher at Seven Sorrows School in Middletown Pa. who was attending the conference for the first time, said that she and her students especially enjoyed the “Forensic Science vs. Crime” lecture by Lee Ann Singly.

Dr. Smith thanked retired mathematics professor, Dr. Wolf, who spear-headed the first conference.

As a father of three girls, who had varying interests in both feminine activities and science and mathematics, Dr. Wolf said he started this conference to help girls meet professional role-models and encourage them to continue proficiency in science in mathematics.

“High school and junior high girls have been known to be interested in science and mathematics and to do well in these subjects, until they reached the age it became unpopular,” Dr. Wolf said.

Encouraging these students to consider the opportunities at Millersville University, Dr. Smith, noted that 20 percent of the student body is pursuing a degree in science and mathematics, so students do not have to worry about popularity.

“Many times I’ve had students in my math classes that have attended the conference while in middle or high school,” Dr. Ximena Catepillian said, Chair of the conference committee, said. “We also have several role models who have graduated from MU.”

Ms. Tammy Pugliese, the conference’s program committee, opened the conference beginning with her “moment of revelation” in high school biology that she wanted to pursue a career in science and using herself as a “real-life example” of the possibilities in science and mathematics for women.

“An interest in science and mathematics can open doors,” Pugliese said, she travels throughout North America handling raw material, using analytical thinking, and troubleshooting while auditing facilities for a Johnson and Johnson operating company.