ATLANTA, Ga. -- The growth of women entering highly competitive fields in science and technology are forcing some colleges and universities to look to the preteens of today for the jobs of the next decade.
A group of sixth graders attended a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) educational workshop hosted by Kennesaw State University on Monday as the school looks to inspire girls interested in STEM-related fields.
"We are encouraging girls to think about a STEM career, and so we want to start with our middle school girls," said Gilda Lyon, STEM coordinator at the Georgia Department of Education. "We have lots of workshops that encourage girls to go into STEM careers and it's all very hands on so that girls can see that it's a lot of fun to build and create and produce things."
One of NASA's educator-astronauts was in attendance to help motivate and give advice to over two-hundred students from across north Georgia.
Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger flew aboard space shuttle Discovery for a one week visit aboard the International Space Station in 2010, and offered words of encouragement and inspiration to the students.
"We have real issues that we are dealing with in our society that have an answer in the STEM fields, and we need talented men and women to answer these question," Lindenburger pointed out to this aerospace journalist.
"I want girls to see themselves as capable of doing science, technology, engineering and math and being interested in it," the shuttle veteran continued. "I know they have really good questions, and today is a place to where they can start to answer those questions."
One science motivated young student was also in attendance at the Kennedy Space Center as Lindenburger lifted-off aboard Discovery in the predawn hours of April 5, 2010.
"I remember it launched just before sunrise, and the rocket made colorful smoke and vapor trails which were illuminated as the sun rose," recalled Rachel, a student at Piney Grove Middle School in Alpharetta, who was just seven years-old at the time.
Now eleven, Rachel and her fellow students are exercising new paths in science as they read books on technology, visit museums and attend special science conferences at an earlier age than their parents did at their age.
Rachel credits watching the space shuttle's powerful launch up close as inspiration for her now active role in science and technology.
Fellow Piney Grove teammate Jaden expressed an interest in outdoor sciences.
"I would love to become someone who can help our environment, like stopping the reduction of trees and animals due to mass construction," Jaden said.
As the students attended their workshops, laughter and amazement echoed through the rooms as they created new ideas and structures related to STEM core ideas.
(Charles Atkeison reports on aerospace, science and technology. Follow his updates via Twitter @AbsolutSpaceGuy.)