NU gives girls more than day off classes

Laura Schocker

Thirteen-year-old Shannon Kelly said her early wake-up call Thursday morning was the first indication that Northwestern’s program wasn’t any ordinary Take Our Daughters to Work Day.

“I actually had to get up an hour earlier than I would for school,” said Kelly, a 7th-grade student at Nichols Middle School in Evanston. “A lot of people think you’re just blowing off school because most kids just sit in their parents’ offices all day. But here they have a formal setting that shows us women can do anything.”

The day exists to expose young girls to workplaces they ordinarily wouldn’t have access to, but some school administrators are questioning whether the programs are more valuable than classroom time.

A Naperville, Ill., school district is considering not excusing students who miss class for Take Our Daughters to Work Day next year, according to a recent Chicago Tribune article.

But organizers at NU said their programming is worthwhile for young women. About 300 girls ages 9 to 16 gathered at the Evanston and Chicago campuses Thursday for the NU’s 11th annual Take Our Daughters to Work Day.

“Some schools feel this is ‘Take Your Child Out of School Day,'” said Renee Redd, director of the Women’s Center. “I wish they’d come to Northwestern to see what we do.”

The girls started the day at 8:15 a.m. Sprawled out across the Blomquist Recreation Center floor, they stifled early-morning yawns and talked with classmates while waiting to depart for the first of their three tours.

Girls could choose from 15 tracks that featured tours on self-defense, physical therapy, computer programming, field hockey and reporting, among others.

Kelly, who has attended NU’s program for five years, said she agrees with Redd that the day is more than just a get-out-of-class-free pass.

“I used to not like science at all,” Kelly said. “Sometimes the programs sound weird, but once I get here I see how interesting they are.”

Redd said this year’s event was especially important due to the remarks made by Harvard University President Lawrence Summers about women’s role in science and criticism over the educational value of the event.

“The reality is that women are still underrepresented in the fields of science and math,” Redd said.

Physics and astronomy Prof. Arthur Schmidt taught Kelly and eight other girls basic tenets of physics at the Technological Institute.

Amid exclamations of “Oh, I did it!” and “Wow!” Schmidt showed the girls how to transmit their voices through paper cups and measure speed on motion-sensitive computer programs.

The girls’ surprise turned into unblinking fascination when Schmidt churned a machine that produced static electricity.

“You can get in touch with me and I’ll answer any questions — except homework questions,” Schmidt joked before sharing several holographic pictures with the group.

“I would love to learn how to (make holograms),” Kelly said, moving back and forth in front of the images.

After their first program, the girls walked across campus to the admissions office for “Who Wants to be a Wildcat?” clutching red lunch boxes that read: “Northwestern University cherishes its daughters.”

Program chaperone Natasha Moss said the day’s message is genuine.

“This is a program of substance,” said Moss, a manager with the university’s athletics department. “There are more ways to learn than just sitting in a classroom.”

Reach Laura Schocker at [email protected]