Girls visit campus to prepare for future

Kristin Gustafson

Girls got to cut school Thursday to watch University women and men do their jobs.
The University held its eighth annual Take Our Daughters to Work Day, opening its doors in an effort to embolden girls at a stage in development when many struggle with self-esteem and self-worth.
Ms. Foundation for Women created the day in 1993 to encourage adults to take their adolescent daughters and other girls to work as an effort to expand girls’ horizons and help them stay strong, confident and bold. Millions of employers across the country, including the University, followed the foundation’s lead.
In Morrill Hall, high-ranking female administrators addressed the important contributions of University women throughout time.
Girls listened as an actress playing Dr. Maria Sanford, the University’s first woman professor, explained the importance of getting a good education.
“Certainly the U has come a long way from having only one female professor,” Tonya Moten Brown, one of the University’s highest ranking administrators, told the girls.
University President Mark Yudof encouraged them to pursue any profession they wished, including plumber, painter and his own position as University president.
“It’s basically a great job,” Yudof said. “I spend a lot of time asking for money and sending thank you notes; it’s not a lot different than girl scouts and selling girl scout cookies.”
University attorney William Donohue brought his daughter, Sarah, and her best friend, Kaitlin Monson.
The 12-year-old girls, who both aspire to act in major films, tested theatrical lines on Northrop Auditorium’s stage and took turns sitting in Donohue’s office chair — a thrill for both.
“I think it’s important to expose all kids to higher education and see what their parents do for work,” Donohue said.
At orientation, girls were told to interview those in the workplace. “Open your mouth: ask questions,” a welcome brochure read. This year’s event also focused on diversity, asking the girls to notice how many men and women and people of color were in the workplace they visited.
Insecurity and intervention
Ten years ago research showed that many early adolescent girls experience a significant drop in self-esteem and intense feelings of insecurity after age 11.
In response, the Ms. Foundation began promoting a day to focus on girls’ abilities rather than appearances.
It appears they made an impact. According to a 1999 Roper Starch Poll:
ù Three in 10 American companies participate in the day,
ù Almost 19 million girls were taken to work last year, and
ù 85 percent of adults believe girls have a wider choice of careers in 1999 than in 1990.
Girls will be girls
Not just girls showed up Thursday; boys roamed the halls too.
Employees at Boynton Health Services — named after Dr. Ruth Boynton, the first female director of a coed college health service in the country — geared their science events toward all kids, regardless of gender.
Leslie Kennedy, an event coordinator and administrative director for research in the departments of medicine, dermatology and neurology, said she understands the need for a gender neutrality, but also sympathizes with the need to focus on girls because of perceived barriers for girls in the science area.
“I consider it a big success when, at the end of the day, the kids talk about wanting to be a neurosurgeon or a veterinarian … whether they are boys or girls,” Kennedy said.
But, she added, eight years of bringing her daughter to work has changed the scope of career possibilities for her 11-year-old daughter, who now wants to be a veterinarian.
“It can affect people’s lives,” Kennedy said of the day.
Former University employee and student Velvalesha Bostick brought eight girls — four of her daughters and four others — to expose them to different work opportunities besides her profession as a realtor.
“For girls, the exposure is good and it is positive reinforcement for all employment arenas, professional industries and fields,” she said.
It is important for girls to learn they can become biologists and doctors in the medical field where men dominate, Bostick added.
Her 12-year-old daughter, Kristina, hopes to be an astronaut, “because I want to step foot on the moon and see the earth from far away,” she said.
Kristina liked Thursday’s event because it showed what work women can do. “Women used to not be able to work outside of the home, and so it teaches us we can do things outside of the homeplace … girls need to learn how to do stuff they wouldn’t do, like computers.”
Despite efforts to include boys, the University’s Women’s Center — sponsor of the University-wide event — stands by its decision to target only girls.
Just as the University celebrates other cultural events, “we want the day to be focused on women and girls and their achievements and work,” said Jennifer Simmelink, University graduate student and Women’s Center spokeswoman.

Kristen Gustafson welcomes comments at [email protected]