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Twelve-year-old Kathy Hu holds a fishing line taut as she prepares to release her balloon rocket made of a long green balloon, straw, paper clips and tape. 

“The angle really, really matters,” Hu said, slowly inching forward. “We’re testing it with the straw on one end and the paper clips on the other.”

The goal of the project was to see how many paper clips each team could get to the top of the line, teaching the young girls mass, force and aerodynamics. 

“They test different things out and its amazing to see the evolution in their heads as they develop a new plan,” said Trish Mace, a National Aeronautics and Space Administration educator. 

The balloon rocket was just one of several activities that 120 middle school girls participated in Saturday as part of Discovering the Scientist Within, a program put on by Oregon State University Saturday.

The annual event is a way for OSU to address the lack of women in science and engineering careers 

“Females are either scared of science or they have the perception that you’ve got to be a male to be a scientist, with a lab coat and scary hair,” said Sujaya Rao, professor of entomology and the main organizer of the workshop. 

Rao points to research by the American Association of University Women, which shows that women are underrepresented in what they call STEM professions: science, technology, engineering and math. 

The association found that although women hold more than half the jobs in biology, women represent less than 30 percent in fields such as environmental and computer scientists and less than 10 percent in engineering fields. 

In the article “Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics,” researchers point to the fact that negative stereotypes about girls’ ability in math can measurably lower girls’ test performance and aspirations for science and engineering careers over time. 

So the mission of Saturday’s workshop is simple: “Anybody can be a scientist,” Rao said. 

“I think it makes it a less scary career. I think this is very powerful,” she said. 

And the girls and their parents thought so too.

Jamie Macke, a sixth grader at Linus Pauling Middle School attended with her mother Katrina Macke, 40, of Corvallis. 

Jamie loves snakes and learned Saturday that that wasn’t as weird as she thought it was. 

Macke, who has worked as an environmental lab technician, understands the lack of support for girls interested in science and was happy her daughter participated in the workshop.

“Science is a male dominated field ... I felt the prejudice that I wasn’t smart enough,” she said. But she said programs like these are good for empowering girls. 

“It’s helping even the playing field,” Macke said.

Emily Gillespie can be reached 

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