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Get a job, girlfriend!

Published Sep. 29, 2005

A new book tells you what you CAN be when you grow up.

When someone asks you what you want to be when you grow up, do you think such things as "orthopedic surgeon" or "software engineer"?

Those are the kinds of careers that Virginia authors Ceel Pasternak and Linda Thornburg think that seventh-grade girls ought to be informed about. The two friends have paired up to write a series of books called Cool Careers for Girls, which focus on the lesser-known but still exciting vocational options open to women.

"The biggest mistake that a girl can make is not to explore different fields, or expect that her husband will support her," said Pasternak, 66. "We want girls to feel unlimited."

The series includes Cool Careers for Girls in Computers, Cool Careers for Girls in Animals, Cool Careers for Girls in Sports, Cool Careers for Girls in Health, Cool Careers for Girls in Engineering and Cool Careers for Girls in Food. Each book features about 10 profiles of adult women making honest livings in professions that most junior high school students may not have considered. The sports book, for example, profiles television broadcaster Robin Roberts and University of Maryland athletic director Deborah Yow.

The co-authors found women in a variety of fields through their own networking and through professional and trade groups. Each career profile ends with a checklist of traits that are helpful in that job. Being a sports psychologist, for example, requires aspirants to "believe in yourself," be "passionate about sports," "never give up on anything" and "like to help people do their best."

Pasternak and Thornburg are encouraging their young readers to think beyond the traditional definitions of work for women. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the most popular career for American women is still "secretary." Rounding out the top five are cashier, manager, nurse and saleswoman.

The books are written to reach girls at age 12, a time when they may be discouraged from pursuing math or computers, according to Pasternak and Thornburg.

The authors are under no illusion that average girls are going to shell out their allowance money to buy these inspirational manuals. The books' ideal buyers are parents and aunts and grandparents who want to plant some ideas in their young relatives' heads.

The idea for the series was planted in Pasternak's head when she read a story in The Washington Post about "Career Day" at a local school. One girl told a reporter it didn't much matter what job she chose because her husband would make all the money she needed. Pasternak _ who herself wanted to be a poet at age 12 _ called her friend Thornburg with an idea for a newsletter aimed at making young girls more aware of how many job options there are in the new world economy. The newsletter was titled "It's a Living" and was sold to libraries and schools.

Pasternak, who always suspected that she would have made a fine engineer, said she wants to end the notion, all too prevalent among younger girls, that "you can't do that job."