Photo: Jennifer Stimpson
Three winners of the first-ever O -White House Leadership Project are putting a new face on math, physics, and chemistry—and they want girls to notice.
When Déborah Berebichez told her family and friends she wanted to study mathematics, they said, "But you'll never get married. No man wants a wife who's smarter than he is." Their reaction was typical in the Mexico City community where Berebichez grew up, but she paid no heed, earning a PhD in physics at Stanford in 2004. Now 34 and living in New York City, where she's a consultant for MSCI Barra, a financial risk analysis firm, she is determined to make science more appealing to the next generation of girls. Her videos, with titles like The Physics of High Heels, demonstrate ways in which science applies to daily life and how fun it can be to learn. If her dream comes true (likely, considering her record), the series will become a TV show.
Tanya Moore remembers being told by a high school teacher that she didn't belong in the advanced math class. Moore, 35, now has a PhD in biostatistics from UC Berkeley and wants to challenge the idea that "only some people can do math—usually white males." Her project, an Infinite Possibilities Conference, will support and encourage minority women and girls in mathematics by offering role models and mentors. "Math provides a framework to organize information and interpret data," says Moore, who is program manager for the City of Berkeley's Division of Public Health. "Even if you're not going to use geometry in your life's work, it gives you tools that are good for decision-making and critical thinking."
Jennifer Stimpson, a 36-year-old chemistry teacher from Dallas, calls herself a "new-millennium science nerd." Stimpson is developing a K–12 program called Get a KIC Out of Science (KIC stands for Knowledge in Chemistry). "It shows that everyday people use chemistry," she says. "Your pharmacist is a chemist, your neighborhood baker is a chemist, and your air conditioner guy has to have some knowledge of chemistry. KIC makes science relatable and tangible."
The trio bonded during the conference , and after a discussion on how celebrities always generate buzz for their causes, they joked about forming a mock girl group: Déborah as Shakira, Tanya as Alicia Keys, and Jennifer as Beyoncé. They're more than half serious (anyone in Hollywood reading? are we talking TV pilot?). "We're women, we're minorities, we're scientists, and we don't have that geeky look," says Stimpson, "so here's our message: You can be black, Hispanic, or Asian, you can wear Manolos, you can be fly, hip, and dynamic and be a scientist. When a 12-year-old thinks you're cool, that's like getting a million-dollar check."
Pictured above: Jennifer Stimpson (second from left), back home in Dallas, shows (from left) Phantasia Preston and Richia Campbell how to determine the number of calories in a peanut.
From the November 2008 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
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