More than 230 middle-school-aged girls attend Math Options Career Day at Behrend

As a teenager, the film “Apollo 13” inspired Rachel Murphy to pursue an astronomy-related career.

“Remember the line, ‘Houston, we have a problem,’ in the movie ‘Apollo 13?’” Murphy asked the crowd of more than 230 seventh- and eighth-grade girls at Math Options Career Day at Penn State Erie, the Behrend College. “Well, now I’m Houston.”

Murphy, a 2001 graduate of Penn State Behrend, now works as the mechanical and electrical systems group lead in Mission Operations for NASA in Houston. Her keynote address on May 13 was one of the highlights of Math Options Career Day.

Math Options is an outreach program coordinated by Penn State Behrend’s Office of Community and Workforce Programs. The program, which is in its 18th year at Penn State Behrend, seeks to expose middle-school-aged girls to careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics – fields that generally are dominated by men.

Students came from schools in Erie, Crawford, Potter and Warren counties to participate in a series of workshops that demonstrated real-life applications of “book math.” Some of the activities included the creation of a moon rover, studying macroinvertebrates, playing STEM Monopoly and a live animal presentation.

Murphy was a spectator at many of the day’s activities, including the “Roving on the Moon” workshop, which was appropriate given her line of work. The Butler native has first-hand knowledge of how rewarding a STEM-related career can be, and she emphasized that when she engaged in discussions with students.

“With a STEM-related degree, you can go and do whatever you want. It gives you a great starting point to go and figure out your niche,” Murphy said.

Years ago, “Apollo 13” helped Murphy finds hers. At Math Options, she hoped to return the favor.

“There are a lot of problems out there, and the world needs people to solve them. Ladies, we can’t do it without you,” Murphy said as her keynote address came to a close.

Last Updated May 14, 2014