10 June 2005

Girls Technology Symposium

A statuesque woman in a black and white print, African-style dress, her shiny dreadlocks upswept to frame her face, addressed a group of teenage girls Saturday using an acronym for G.I.R.L. power, "greatness inspires responsibility and leadership," to encourage the girls to "own your greatness and take care of it."

Blanche Williams, host of an XM radio show "Greatness by Design," was the engaging motivational speaker who ended the first Prince George's County Girls Technology Symposium.

"Science rules the world," Williams said, reiterating the theme that emerged from the event's 10 other presenters.

About 50 girls and a few parents and younger siblings heard from a dentist, medical doctor, food scientist, FBI special agent, forensic chemist, financial planner, web developer, engineer, lieutenant colonel in the fire department and astrophysicist.

The presenters, who were all women, stressed the importance of taking as much science and math as possible in high school to prepare for college and careers.

Williams, who at 6'3" and with a dynamic personality, easily captured the attention of those crowded in a conference room at the county's RMS building in Largo.

She took the science, technology and math theme a step further than the more concrete advice from the other professionals, urging the teens to choose to be great and respect themselves.

"Greatness attracts greatness and repels mediocrity," Williams said.

Williams reached the girls on their level by speaking their language, peppering her diction with slang such as "bomb diggity" and "roll like you are."

Throughout her 40-minute talk, Williams elicited participation from the teenagers, which they were more than willing to provide, particularly when Williams asked "Are you ready for your parents to step off?"

"YES!" was the emphatic answer from the girls, although their parents didn't seem so convinced.

The teenagers were also willing to share their career aspirations, which included veterinarian, neurosurgeon, psychologist, pediatrician and pharmacist.

"It's like she knows me or something," high school freshman Ashli Mitchell said of Williams. "I even took notes."

Mitchell's mother was equally inspired by Williams' talk and said the entire symposium appealed to more than one age bracket.

"She was remarkable," Jeannette Nash said. "There were things to her speech that were beneficial to me, and I'm 50."

One of the few men at the girls tech symposium, James A. Dula, deputy chief administrative officer for Health and Human Services in Prince George's County, opened the program.

Dula offered some inspirational wisdom of his own, quoting W.E.B. DuBois and African spirituals.

"A plan is nothing but a dream with a deadline," Dula said. "You have to keep your dream alive. … You can't let anybody turn you around."

Dula's offered some advice he heard from a high school valedictorian, that students must receive three "B.S." degrees: "Be smart. Be successful. Be somebody."

Many of the girls responded to that statement, saying they already are somebody.

Mitchell will be a sophomore in the fall, and she has attended Largo High School. She said she wants to help people and her future career goals are to become a psychiatrist or basketball player.

She said she will focus on basketball for now.

Janee Minor, who will be a freshman at Charles Herbert Flowers High School in Springdale, said she liked the symposium because it will help her realize her dream to become a NASA astrophysicist.

"I learned how to get into NASA and what degrees I have to do," Minor said as she wrangled her little brother, Justin, and kept him from the turkey sandwich in her boxed lunch.

The event was designed to spark the girls' interest for math and science, and presenters emphasized the importance of math and science education to prepare for such careers.

"I like science," Minor said. "Math is OK, but it's not my favorite."

The symposium was sponsored by the Prince George's County Commission for Women, the Department of Family Services and the Maryland Commission for Women.

Nash said the organizers should be commended for their efforts in putting together the program.

"The information was interesting and beneficial," she said. "If utilized, it could take these girls far."

Each girl received a purple drawstring backpack full of information on the speakers and career options in science, math and technology.

Door prizes were also awarded, and several girls went home with gifts ranging from a handheld radio to a digital camera to a pocket computer.

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