Girls Inc., formerly Girls Clubs of America, has a new focus _ Operation SMART (Science, Math and Relevant Technology), designed to help girls learn attitudes that will interest them in these fields. "Skills are different from what they were when the organization was started 45 years ago," said Dr. Roselyn Payne Epps, the group's president.
"Everything is moving very rapidly into technology. Then we concentrated on such things as cooking, since most of the girls stayed home instead of working," Epps said.
But research conducted by Girls Inc. through a grant from the Ford Foundation brought out facts that led the organization to initiate the new Operation SMART program, she said.
"Our studies showed that not enough girls were being encouraged to enter the fields of science, math and relevant technology, and that this is where the new jobs are going to be in the future," Epps said. "Unless the women learn these skills, they're not going to be able to compete."
Girls Inc. affiliates offer informal educational programs that supplement skills girls learn in school, Epps said. "These are the skills that will prepare them for life.
"Think how few people, including women, can set their VCRs," Epps said. "They simply haven't developed those kinds of skills."
Her parents encouraged her to be whatever she wanted to be, Epps said. She is a professor of pediatrics and child health at Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, D.C. Her husband, Charles Epps Jr., is dean of the college of medicine.
"But I've known many girls who were interested in medicine and somewhere along the way someone said, "Women aren't supposed to be doctors.' We must let these girls know that is not the case."
The affiliate groups do not teach special skills, but offer programs to enhance them.
"Through our affiliates girls can have the opportunity to build circuits or take a bicycle apart, to question and search and ask and heighten their awareness. They can learn that the approach to chemistry is the same as a recipe."