For all the bunk about women not being able to do math and science, everyone can now be sure of one thing: This year three women were awarded Nobel Prizes in science and one in the economic sciences, bringing the number of women who have been awarded the honor in the sciences to 16; Marie Curie won twice. From this story on “mythbusters,” the women who sit at the apex of corporate America armed with math and science degrees, to the four 2009 laureates–Elinor Ostrom (the first woman to win the prize for economic science), Ada E. Yonath in chemistry, and Elizabeth H. Blackburn and Carol W. Greider in physiology/medicine (the first time two women shared a single Nobel science prize)–the message is clear: Women excel at science and math.
One day back in 1975 a senior at a New York City parochial school named Ursula Burns went to the library on a mission. She was a very good student–a whiz, in fact, in science and math, but as she looked toward college her teachers at Cathedral High School were offering little encouragement for a future in those disciplines. They wanted her to pursue a career in education.
Burns, the daughter of a single mother who ironed clothes for a living, had different ambitions. She wanted–she needed–to make good money. So she lugged some career directories down from the library shelves and thumbed through their pages for professions requiring math or science degrees. Engineering fit. She delved further and learned that the field with the highest starting salaries was chemical engineering. Mission accomplished. She would become a chemical engineer.