JOHN MERROW: About five and a half million people in the United States are in science and engineering occupations, ranging from aerospace, to technology, to chemistry. Most of these jobs are held by men.
According to the National Science Foundation, women make up less than 25 percent of all science and engineering jobs in the government and private sectors. One prominent study in 2002 found that among the top 50 university science and engineering departments on average, only 15 percent of all tenure and tenure-track professors are women.
In January, while addressing the issue of women in science, Harvard President Larry Summers sparked a media firestorm when he suggested that one explanation for the gender gap could be aptitude.
But at Hathaway Brown, a private pre-K through 12 all-girl school in Cleveland, Ohio, Principal Bill Christ sees a bright side to the Larry Summers controversy.
BILL CHRIST: The silver lining of the whole affair, I think, has been that it has brought the subject back into view, and in a very, very big way.
JOHN MERROW: Here at Hathaway Brown, students participate in a science program that has attracted attention from other schools across the country. Beginning in the first grade, science is a large part of the school's culture, the culmination of which is this: High school students gaining access to some of the world's most prestigious medical and science institutions. At the Cleveland Clinic, biomedical engineer Dr. Shuvo Roy mentors Hathaway Brown junior Maddy Coquillette.
MADDY COQUILLETTE: The science graph in the middle, c-3, c-4 vertebrae.
DR. SHUVO ROY: The c-3, c-4.
MADDY COQUILLETTE: And the disc in the middle.
JOHN MERROW: She spent the last three years gathering data about the effects of implanted censors in goat spines to determine how the human spine deteriorates.
BILL CHRIST: Scientific culture has not been female friendly in the past. As a school that's dedicated to releasing the full capabilities of girls and young women, we felt that this was an area where we can really make a difference.
JOHN MERROW: In 1998, Principal Christ asked physical science teacher and former geochemist Patty Hunt to run the school's new science research program.
PATTY HUNT: Hey CC, it's Patty.
JOHN MERROW: Making contacts in the local science community, Hunt gets her students internships with some of the industry's best and brightest.
PATTY HUNT: We really are taking large steps toward creating leaders in science and technology for the future. We're not just creating the women leaders. We are creating the leaders.
CC LIU: These are the smallest size in electrodes that we can use in the future.
JOHN MERROW: Sophomore Joanne Wang and Junior Benita Tjoe are being mentored by CC Liu an internationally renowned chemical engineer and professor at Case Western University. They're developing micro electrochemical censors in order to detect markers in the blood that are indicative of oncoming heart attacks and strokes.
At the Space Medicine Department at the Cleveland Clinic, junior Nehama Rogozen is working on the development of a groundbreaking ambulatory data recorder that will enable astronauts to maintain muscle mass while in space.
MENTOR: This is PEP, and it converts to 2pg.
JOHN MERROW: Today, about 100 students, more than one-third of the high school, participate in the science research program.
RHONI RAKOS: I feel like my experience in the lab and doing research has really developed my passion, and it's hard for me to look at myself as not having done this because I'm a very different thinker, and I'm a very different person for it.
JOHN MERROW: This passion has paid off. Since 1999, the program students have won the most competitive high school science awards every year, including 22 Siemens Westinghouse and 30 Intel awards. More importantly, they are becoming scientists.
Former students have six patents, either approved or pending and more than 50 students have been published in science journals. Despite all these achievements, Hathaway Brown girls still encounter bias in the science community.
SHABDA CHIURUPATI: I was watching a surgery one day to give me a little bit of background for my project, and the doctor performing the surgery, he was an electro physiologist, and he asked me what type of medicine I was interested in, or when I'm older, and I mentioned heart surgery. And he said dermatology or being a pediatrician would be better because there isn't as much physical labor involved.
JOHN MERROW: While at a science fair, Allison Rapoport confronted a similar attitude.
ALLISON RAPOPORT: We were in engineering, we were just about the only females there, and just walking around, judges almost never stopped by our booth. I think we got maybe one judge in the hour.
They would visit regularly with the boys around us and ask them probing questions that were more complicated than what they tended to ask us. And when they did ask us questions, it was mostly to ascertain whether the research really was ours.
JOHN MERROW: Did those stories surprise you?
RUTA SEVO: Not at all. Not at all. I mean, we have people reporting that all the time. I started out in eighth grade wanting to be a nuclear physicist or a surgeon. I had a counselor bet me I would be a grade school teacher.
JOHN MERROW: Ruta Sevo is the senior program manager for gender studies at the National Science Foundation.
RUTA SEVO: When you cut off a group of people arbitrarily, you're losing an opportunity. Asian countries, they don't have a gender gap. For example, Korea has one-sixth of our population and are producing as many engineers as we are. So they're producing proportionately many more than we are.
JOHN MERROW: Many of them are women?
RUTA SEVO: Many of them are women.
SPOKESPERSON: There we go. Okay.
JOHN MERROW: Why aren't more American women in science today? Freshman Sarah Counihan has a theory.
SARAH COUNIHAN: I think that we're not encouraged to be in the math and science at a younger age. We're kind of discouraged to an extent. It's more encouraged with the boys, and I think that has a huge impact on us because when we get older, it's already engrained into us that it's mostly the boys that are in that field.
PATTY HUNT: If you talk to my students, you will hear some of them say, "I'm not concerned about gender issues. I see no difference." And you will see that they've broken through the barrier.
Others will quickly say, "All of my friends say 'Why are you going into science? You're a girl. Why are you doing this?'" And they are still at the place where the gender is an issue.
JOHN MERROW: Experts acknowledge that women have come a long way in the past 30 years.
RUTA SEVO: We've had a lot of change in other fields. For example, in chemistry, more girls are taking advanced placement chemistry than boys. In my generation, it was just about zero.
JOHN MERROW: Looking to the future, there's a bigger issue: America needs scientists. In the next 15 years, many of today's scientists will reach retirement age, and there are few coming up to replace them. Since 1990, bachelor's degrees in engineering have declined by 8 percent; and in mathematics, by 22 percent.
STUDENT: Hey, how are you? Hi.
JOHN MERROW: But Principal Christ is optimistic.
BILL CHRIST: This is an age of daughters rising. There never was in the past a golden age for girls, but this is it now.
PATTY HUNT: So this space shuttle to go up will carry a Hathaway Brown experiment up, and it will bring a Hathaway Brown experiment back.
JOHN MERROW: In the summer of 2001, the space shuttle Discovery mounted over 40 material samples provided by Hathaway Brown students on the exterior of the international space station as an experiment in space exposure. The samples are scheduled to be returned to earth and to Hathaway Brown this summer, aboard the space shuttle Discovery, the commander of which is a woman.