the Academy of Natural Sciences documented the impact of these experiences on career choices. In particular, they found that of 152 women from urban, low-income, single-parent families who participated in the program, 109 enrolled in college, and the majority reported that their educational and career decisions were influenced by the opportunity to talk to staff and develop job skills and in having the museum as a safe place to go.
Many adults are involved in children’s daily lives, including immediate family members or guardians, teachers, and adults with whom children spend out-of-school time (such as youth group leaders, after-school facilitators, and child care providers). The influence that early experiences and role models can have in supporting women’s engagement in science is further reflected in the retrospective studies of what launched female scientists down their career paths. These women often cite particular individuals or contexts outside schools as significant influences on their pursuit of science careers (Baker, 1992; Fort, Bird, and Didion, 1993). In a study of barriers and strategies for success among female scientists (Hathaway, Sharp, and Davis, 2001), women reflected on the importance of finding informal networks and supporters through family as well as outside routes. In addition, as Eisenhart and Finkel (1998) found, “once outside the confines of conventional school science and engaged in more meaningful activities, women seemed to lack neither an interest in science nor the ability to learn it” (p. 239). Thus, it seems imperative to understand more about the nontraditional contexts and individuals instrumental in influencing young women in science, as well as the ways in which opportunities offered in nontraditional and intergenerational contexts available in informal environments can challenge the ways gendered messages about science are reproduced.
Overall, inequities persist in science participation by gender; however, there has been a positive trend toward reducing these gender inequities in science participation and achievement. The disparities continue to be more apparent in each successive level of education and career. Contextual and personal factors are related to these issues of inequity. Self-efficacy and gender stereotypes have been associated with girls’ participation in science, and connected to the different types of encouragement provided to boys and girls by their parents, teachers, and other adults. Engagement with scientists and with science outside the context of formal environments for learning shows promise in mediating the impacts of self-efficacy and gender stereotype issues for young women.
For people from nondominant groups, negotiating between various systems and communities can be stressful and problematic. Aikenhead (1996) described this process in relation to science education as one in which students must engage in “border crossings” from their own everyday