By Rita Giordano
The Philadelphia Inquirer.
A few years ago, Mount Laurel School Superintendent Antoinette Rath heard a statistic quoted during a conference that pretty much blew her away: In the United States, there are more female truck drivers than female scientists.
“I thought, ‘Wow,’ ” Rath recalled. “It hit me between the eyes.”
Back in her district, she checked on her own students.
It seemed that as the girls went up in the years, their enthusiasm for science slacked off.
In class, they participated less.
So Rath, who will be honored for her achievements this week, started talking with her staff about how to make science more hands-on, more relevant, more — her word — “alive” for girls as well as boys.
Flash to the present: Mount Laurel’s middle schoolers have a whole Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) program on offer.
In grades five through eight, students are building robots, making environmental videos, doing digital research, making forensic discoveries, and more.
“It was that quote that helped me champion a course for girls to go into science fields,” Rath said. And not just girls. “It was about youth empowerment.”
On Thursday, Rath and six others will be feted at an awards banquet as 2014’s Outstanding Women of Burlington County by the county Advisory Council on Women.
The other honorees include Judith Glick Buckman, a founding member of the Alice Paul Institute, named for the New Jersey suffragist and women’s rights activist; Karen Harkaway, dermatology chief at Lourdes Medical Center of Burlington County, who removes breast cancer patients’ radiation tattoos free, helped with Hurricane Sandy cleanup, and does other philanthropy; Kristen E. Polovoy, a lawyer with multiple sclerosis who serves as an advocate for others with the disease.
Monica Steele-Taylor, another honoree, is a wife, mother, grandmother, career woman, and abuse survivor dedicated to raising awareness of domestic abuse and promoting healthy relationships. She hosts workshops for teens and single parents and participates in charitable efforts.