by Stephanie O'Neill
In the early days of her career, aerospace engineer Judith Love Cohen was
among the few women who helped shape the U.S space program. As an Apollo
Systems Engineer and later as leader of the Hubble Space Telescopeís ground
system design team, she spent 30-years on the cutting-edge of the aerospace
But for the past decade, Cohen, 66, of Marina del Rey, Calif. has set her
passion for planets orbiting onto a new path. These days, instead of guiding
missiles and rockets into outer space, she's guiding young girls into the
male-dominated fields of engineering and science with a series of career books written for seven-to-12-year-old girls.
Her first book, "You Can Be A Woman Engineer," published in 1991, spawned
a series of books and accompanying interactive CD-ROMs that are changing the
perception and quite possibly the lives of the young female audience.
The series is intended to provide girls with crucial, early exposure to
the sciences. "If they get exposed early and find they like it, they'll never
let anyone talk them out of it," Cohen says.
The still-expanding series offers a number of topics from which girls may
choose. Cohen has co-authored with other accomplished women scientists nearly
a dozen books in the fields of architecture, marine biology, zoology,
study of Egypt), paleontology, oceanography, astronomy, cardiology and
But the real challenge is writing about such topics in a way that's
to children. Cohen does this in part by making the sciences less formidable
more familiar to girls. For instance, in the recently updated edition of "You
A Woman Engineer," she tells her readers that many of the skills essential to
engineering are those in which girls already excel.
In the book, she recalls a discussion with a school counselor who was
helping her to decide if engineering was a good career choice for her. The
counselor asked her three things: Whether she liked numbers (math was easy for
her); whether she could imagine things in her head (what girl can't?); and
she could figure things out precisely ("One-tenth of an inch difference, and
engine won't work.")
"I thought about baking a cake," she writes. "Unlike my mother, who always
threw things together, I always followed a recipe carefully, and even used
measure spoons to get the amount exactly right."
The book explains in simple-to-read and easy-to-understand words the
different types of engineers, including chemical, mechanical, electrical and
and the work each does.
The accompanying CD-ROM of the same name takes the contents of the
book a few steps further with games, crossword puzzles, graphics and videos,
including footage from the Apollo moon launches and landings. A slide show
called, "Adventures in Space," includes images of the earth, planets and the
now-famous "star birth" shot captured by the Hubble Space Telescope.
The CD-ROM, like the books, also includes a brief history on Cohen's life
and career, beginning with her girlhood fascination with the moon, progressing
through her engineering studies at the University of Southern California
was one of a handful of female engineering majors, and on to her work on NASA
Like many female career pioneers, Cohen endured a large amount of sex
discrimination on the job and for years watched less-qualified male
the better promotions. And while women have better opportunities today -
in fact making great strides in other traditionally-male careers, such as law
medicine - the stats for the hard sciences aren't nearly as heartening.
women account for a dismal six percent of the workforce in such fields as
and chemical engineering.
"When you have women, who make up about 50 percent of the workforce,
shying away from the place where most of the jobs in the 21st century will be
that's a real problem," she says.
Cohen, who has received numerous engineering awards, including the
Outstanding Engineer Award from the Institute for the Advancement of
Engineering, didn't set out to write children's books. In fact, she says, it
husband, David Katz, former elementary school teacher and now full-time
illustrator of her books, who ten years ago suggested she write her
career story for young girls.
Katz, then a fourth grade teacher, made the request of Cohen after a
disappointing day in the classroom. He had asked the girls in his class what
wanted to be when they grew up. Their answers were limited to traditional
fields of teaching, secretarial work and nursing. And while such work is
Katz was concerned that none of the youngsters was considering life as a
or engineer. So, he turned to his wife for help.
"I had written a story about how I had become an engineer," says Cohen,
"and he asked me to rewrite it for 9-year-olds." The story was a hit with
and the couple decided to launch their own publishing company, Cascade Pass,
in Marina del Rey. Several years ago, they both quit their careers to work
publishing the books and CD-ROMs.
The two most recent additions to the series are "You Can Be A Woman
Basketball Player," which Cohen co-authored with Tamecka Dixon, a member of
the Los Angeles Sparks professional basketball team and "The Rachel Carson
about the environmentalist who discovered that DDT was killing birds.
So far, Katz and Cohen say they have sold 80,000 copies of their books and
appears they're making an impact on the lives of young girls. Cohen recounts
rewarding moment that occurred after she read her engineering book to a group
girls scouts. At the end of the reading, a seven-year-old girl approached
showed her the picture she had drawn after hearing Cohen's story.
"She was in a rocket ship," Cohen says contentedly, "and she was going to
Cohen's "You Can Be a Woman ..." books and CD-ROMs are sold in
natural history museums and childrenís museums and online at Amazon.com,
Barnesandnobel.com and direct from Cohen at Cascadepass.com.