An aspiring astronaut, Mary Isip, 14, can't wait to go into space and see the universe. With the help of three other teenagers, Mary has developed a computer program that has helped her learn more about space travel, a game that tests whether someone would be suitable for the distinction "The First Teenager in Space."
Mary and 23 other teenagers from the District, Maryland and Virginia are participating in a computer project at George Washington University designed to encourage young minority women to pursue careers in science. Since February, these teenagers, who will be sophomores and juniors in the fall, have come to the university one Saturday a month to learn basic word processing and special graphics features of Macintosh computers.
After reading books and articles about space travel, Mary and others in her group decided to use what they had learned. Their computer quiz asks about your desire to live with others, your possible apprehension about receiving medical injections and your attention to clothes and general appearance.
Each question relates to something that the teenager may endure or encounter in space travel, such as community living, getting shots before the trip and wearing a space suit, said Mary, who lives in Gaithersburg. Each answer has a numerical value.
"A high score means you're fit for space travel and you have a choice of becoming a crew member or youth group commander in another galaxy," Mary said. "If your score is low, you probably wouldn't like being in space."
This summer, the 24 young women participated in an intensive, 10-day program at the university that ended Friday. During the program, they researched a scientific topic of their choice, from optical illusions to DNA to space travel, and incorporated their research into educational and fun computer games.
Shalini Aurora, 14, and Maya Salameh, 15, copyrighted their computer game. Their program tests knowledge about DNA, deoxyribonucleic acid, a subject that they had learned about in their high school biology classes.
After a short lesson, the computer hits you with "The Quiz," and if you don't pick the right answer, you may feel pretty dumb.
"What is the process of making RNA from DNA?" a question asks. If your answer is "translation," the computer will ask, "What's wrong with you?".
But if "transcription" is your selection, the computer blinks, "You're doing great!" and bestows compliments -- "Are you related to Einstein?" -- to encourage you to try the next question.
The six teams of girls will continue to perfect their computer games into the fall. They are encouraged to come to the computer room at Thompkins Hall on George Washington University's campus on weekends to work on these projects, as well as on term papers and research projects for school.
The main goal of the program, which is sponsored by the National Science Foundation, is "to teach the girls how to use the computer to create teaching programs about science," said Rachelle Heller, a computer science professor at George Washington and co-director of the program. The young women will demonstrate their programs to students at their high schools in the fall.
It also is important for the girls to work in a group, said Diane Martin, a George Washington professor who directs the program with Heller.
"Women work better together in a cooperative environment," said Martin, who teaches computer science. "It's a whole different paradigm than the way men use computers."
Besides using the illustrative graphics and other features of the computers, most girls say one of the best aspects of the program has been living in the dormitories.
"Before these 10 days, we never really knew each other," said 14-year-old Carmen Coles, who attends James Madison High School in Vienna. "Now, we got to work together, got to learn about each other. We'll probably always keep in touch and always be friends."