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October 24, 2011
Volume 89, Number 43
pp. 3

Educating Women

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Suon (left) and So pose before the plaque stating the mission of the Harpswell Foundation in Khmer and English. Maureen Rouhi
Suon (left) and So pose before the plaque stating the mission of the Harpswell Foundation in Khmer and English.

To kick off the International Year of Chemistry, Dow Chemical hosted the virtual conference “The Future of Women in Chemistry & Science,” broadcast on the Internet early this year. I was among 60 women invited to give a 60-second spiel on the challenges and opportunities for women in chemistry and science.

Here’s part of what I said: “Illiteracy is not among the global challenges the International Year of Chemistry focuses on, but it is a global challenge that, if solved, will ensure the future of women in the sciences, including chemistry. According to the United Nations, one of every five adults in the world is illiterate. And two of every three illiterate adults are women. Most of them live in the poorest countries of the world. ... Women who can give and receive information independently are far better equipped … to raise healthy, educated children who may one day take up careers in science, even chemistry.”

But literacy is not enough. To overcome poverty, to be effective citizens, and to contribute to national development, women need further education to empower them to take charge and lead. So when I heard about a dormitory for college women in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, with a mission “to empower a new generation of women leaders in Cambodia,” I seized the opportunity to visit while I was in Asia last month to attend the 14th Asian Chemical Congress (C&EN, Sept. 12, page 11).

In three days of living in the Harpswell Foundation Dormitory & Leadership Centers, I saw how young women can prepare to become future leaders and help rebuild a war-ravaged country. I chronicled my observations and conversations with the residents in three blog posts in CENtral Science last month. In this issue, “Haven of Hope” (page 45) encapsulates how and why the dorm works.

Two proofs that the dorm is succeeding are Raksmey Suon and Dany So. In their mid-20s, these two women are Harpswell alumnae who are now teaching science and math at the Jay Pritzker Academy, in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Their high school students are selected for exceptional academic skills and leadership potential from poor families in surrounding villages.

Their immediate goal is to help the first batch of graduates, who are now still in grade 11, do well in the national high school exams for admission to Cambodian universities. Confident, articulate, and thoughtful, Suon and So already are helping to improve the socioeconomic status of their students. The two are living the dream of Cambodian women, many of whom may not even complete high school.

What Suon and So and other alumnae of the Harpswell dorm show is that high achievement in education is highly probable when students’ basic needs are met, when students have the tools to learn and are held to high standards and expectations, and when they have a community of people who care about them and are invested in their success. These foundations of educational achievement are well-known, and it is a pity that they are not more widely applied.

A. Maureen Rouhi

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2011 American Chemical Society
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