ST. PAUL (WCCO) — Before they even enter first grade, too many young girls are discouraged from showing interest in science and technology.

Anoka native Sandy Marshall decided that notion has to change.

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“We knew through the research that as young as 4, 5 and 6-year-old boys and girls are deciding that math and science are for boys,” Marshall explained.

So in 2011, Marshall founded Project Scientist. It’s a three-week summer academy to expose young girls to science, technology, engineering and math careers. Forty percent of attendees come from low-income households and attend thanks to foundational grants and charitable donations.

“We’re the only program nationally that focuses on girls as young as four,” Marshall added.

With help from the Minnesota Air National Guard and Collins Aerospace, the girls learn from mentors — women who’ve made STEM their careers.

MN ANG Lt. Col. Stacey Meiser pilots a C-130 cargo aircraft.

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“They’re young and they see that women can do it. But also it’s important for the in-between years that they see that yes, this is a thing and women can do it. Women are doing it so it’s not that rare anymore,” said Lt. Col. Meiser.

With the guidance of female pilots, engineers and mechanics, the girls jumped aboard a Blackhawk or Chinook helicopter.

Inside the hangar at Holman Field, tables were set up by Collins Aerospace showing a few of the many high tech products that engineers must design.

More than an afternoon field trip away from the classroom, however, this is a way to show the girls’ technology’s window, which is open to anyone.

“All kids have an interest in dissecting things and all that,” said Marshall. “We’re just here to show them all the careers available to them.”

And who knows, in a few years that size large pilot’s flight suit one of the girls slipped into, might be fitting just fine.

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Project Scientist has a goal to inspire 20-thousand young girls with the world of STEM by 2022.