Education: Steering Girls into Science

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Perhaps the ultimate role model for women in science is Shirley Ann Jackson, the president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The first African-American woman at M.I.T. to get a Ph.D.--in theoretical physics in 1973--Jackson knows a thing or two about overcoming discrimination. Shot at and spit upon by whites while a college student, she went on to do research at Fermilab and Bell Labs. In 1995 she became chair of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and in 2003 was elected president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world's largest general-scientific society. In less than five years as the top executive at Rensselaer, in Troy, N.Y., she has managed to increase the number of female faculty members 34%, from 50 to 67, in part by tapping into new funds to add more professors.

Jackson warns that there aren't enough young people (men included) in the pipeline to replace all the talent that flooded the sciences after Sputnik. The looming shortage, she says, will hinder the U.S. economy and national security. So maybe there's a silver lining to the Larry Summers controversy. "It allows us to have a broader conversation about our capacity for innovation," she says. "My focus is on the complete talent pool. It's an all-in proposition from my perspective." --By Julie Rawe

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