Women’s Healthcare Providers in Georgia

The Georgia Senate Women’s Adequate Healthcare Study Committee met on November 9, 2015 at the State Capitol.  Again they heard from state experts on women’s access to healthcare in Georgia, but this time the presenters focused on women’s healthcare providers and ways to improve access to care for women in rural areas of the state.

Physician Workforce and GME Programs

James R. Zaidan, MD, MBA, Associate Dean, Graduate Medical Education, Emory University

APRN Training Programs

Lucy Marion, PhD, RN, FAAN, FAANP, Dean and Professor, College of Nursing, Augusta University

Certified Nurse-Midwifery

MaryJane Lewit, PhD, CNM, FACNM, Director, Nurse Midwifery Program, Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, Emory University

Nicole S. Carlson, PhD, CMN, Assistant Professor, Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, Emory University; President, Georgia Affiliate of the American College of Nurse Midwives

Preservation of the Georgia Regional Perinatal System

Pat Cota, RN, MS, Executive Director, Georgia OBGyn Society

Seema Csukas, MD, PhD, Medical Director, Maternal and Child Programs, Georgia Department of Public Health

OBGYN Shortage in Rural Georgia Hampers Access to Care

Capitol 2 edit thumbnailThe Senate Women’s Adequate Healthcare Study Committee met on October 26, 2015 at the Tift Regional Health Center in Tifton, GA to discuss women’s access to healthcare in rural Georgia.  Dr. Paul Browne and Dr. Chadburn Ray of Medical College of Georgia and Dr. Adrienne Zertuche of the Georgia Obstetrical and Gynecological Society presented information on how the OBGYN shortage affects women in rural counties along with suggestions for attracting more practitioners to the state and specialty.

When you get outside the Metro Atlanta area, the “biggest barrier to [obstetric] care is geography,” says Dr. Paul Browne.  Rural hospitals have closed, or at least closed their obstetric services, because they cannot stay in business while sustaining heavy losses treating predominantly Medicaid covered patients plus the uninsured.  As a result, 83 percent of women must travel outside of their county to deliver their babies.  Long travel times also translate into unhealthy outcomes for mothers and babies as women who have to drive farther for medical care are more likely to deliver preterm.

There are many factors driving the shortage of OBGYNs in our state.  In rural Georgia the malpractice insurance rates doctors must pay coupled with Medicaid reimbursement rates that are about one-fifth the rates of private insurance companies make it very hard for a doctor to make ends meet in a rural practice.  In Georgia as a whole, Medicaid covers the obstetric costs in 40-60 percent of births depending on the year.  In rural areas, that percentage is much higher.

The obstetrics specialty has not seen a substantial increase in OBGYN residents in more that 20 years, and as a chunk of the current workforce gets ready to retire, we may see even fewer doctors available to treat Georgia women.  Georgia needs to take steps now to support re-entry programs for OBs who want to return to practice after a break, expand our Certified Nurse Midwife programs, and encourage Family Practice physicians to gain obstetric experience.


Paul C. Browne, MD, Medical College of Georgia


Chadburn Ray, MD, Medical College of Georgia


Adrienne D. Zertuche, MD, Georgia Obstetrical and Gynecological Society



Breast Cancer, Alzheimer’s, Osteoporosis, and Heart Disease in Georgia

Diseases That Predominantly Affect Women

Capitol 2 edit thumbnailThe Georgia Senate Women’s Adequate Healthcare Study Committee met at Augusta University in Augusta, GA on October 6, 2015.  The Study Committee heard from experts about the top health concerns affecting women in the state, including breast cancer and cervical cancer, aging issues such as Alzheimer’s disease and osteoporosis, and cardiovascular disease.  Information was presented by Dr. Sharad Ghamande, Dr. Carlos Isales, and Dr. Lucy Marion of Augusta University, Nancy Paris and Angie Patterson of Georgia CORE, Dr. Stephen Goggans of the Georgia Department of Public Health, Dr. Pascha Shafer, and the Alzheimer’s Association.

Cancer Panel

Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosis in women followed by cervical cancer.  A family history of breast cancer is the most significant predictor of risk, and genetic screening for BRCA 1/2 can reduce the incidence of breast cancer and ovarian cancer by 80-95 percent.  While cervical cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women in the United States, the Pap smear screening test reduced the death rate from cervical cancer by 74 percent from 1955-1992.


Sharad Ghamande, MD, FACOG, Professor and Director of Gynocologic Oncology at Augusta University


Nancy Paris, President and CEO, and Angie Patterson, Vice President, of Georgia CORE Center for Oncology Research and Education


Aging Panel

Georgians are living longer, and an aging population brings its own health challenges.  The study committee heard presentations on aging covering such topics and osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s Disease, both of which disproportionately affect women.


Carlos Isales, MD, FACP, Augusta University


Alzheimer’s Association


Chronic Disease and Cardiovascular Disease Panel

Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of women in the United States.  Each day, eleven women die in Georgia from heart disease.  Obesity, which affects over one-third of the population in our state, increases the risk of cardiovascular disease by a factor of four, and diabetes, another risk factor, is increasing in prevalence as well.  Smoking tobacco products is associated with half of heart disease events in women, and the risk drops quickly when women stop smoking.  In fact, the risk is mostly gone in 2-3 years.


Pascha Shafer, MD, FACC


D. Stephen Goggans, MD, MPH, District Health Director for East Central District, Georgia Department of Public Health


Lucy Marion, PhD, RN, Dean of College of Nursing, Augusta University


The next Senate Women’s Adequate Healthcare Study Committee will meet on Monday, November 9, 2015 from 2:00-5:00 pm in room 450 of the State Capitol.

SR 560 Women’s Adequate Healthcare Study Comm (1)


Children’s Mental Health House Study Committee

The Georgia House Study Committee on Children’s Mental Health held their second meeting on October 20, 2015.  They heard presentations from Amerigroup Georgia, Georgia Department of Community Health, Peach State Health Plan, and Well Care Health Plans, Inc.  Study Committee members include Rep. Katie Dempsey, chair, Rep. Joyce Chandler, Rep. Pat Gardner, Rep. Rick Jasperse, Rep. Randy Nix.


Earlie Rockette, Regional Vice President, Special Programs
Amerigroup Georgia


Marcey Alter, Assistant Chief, Medicaid
Georgia Department of Community Health


Jeff Luce, LPC, Clinical Director
Peach State Health Plan


Dauda Griffin, MD, Behavioral Health Medical Director
Remedios Roderiguez, Senior Director, Behavioral Health Operations
Well Care Health Plans, Inc.


The House Study Committee on Children’s Mental Health was created by the following resolution:

1 Creating the House Study Committee on Children’s Mental Health; and for other purposes.
2 WHEREAS, the Georgia General Assembly is concerned with the early intervention and
3 prevention of mental health problems in children and adolescents in Georgia and the
4 resulting impact this has on these children, their families, and the citizens of this state; and
5 WHEREAS, mental health problems in children can impact their ability to learn and function
6 successfully in educational settings, their future job performance and productivity as adults,
7 and their families and others; and
8 WHEREAS, the resources for children and adolescents with mental health problems face a
9 number of challenges concerning funding and other issues which strain their ability to deliver
10 optimal care for these children and adolescents; and
11 WHEREAS, available funding is divided among multiple state agencies and other entities
12 which must compete with each other for such funding; and
13 WHEREAS, the support of early intervention and prevention programs of the Department
14 of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities to identify and treat children with
15 mental health issues before such problems are deeply manifested should be encouraged; and
16 WHEREAS, it would be beneficial to study the issue of available resources for children with
17 mental health issues in this state and identify possible solutions or improvements in the
18 delivery of services, particularly concerning early intervention and prevention services.


Capitol 2 edit thumbnailMore information on the House Study Committee on Children’s Mental Health, including additional presentations and agendas of upcoming meetings, can be found on their website.

Apple Butter by the Bushel

AP Apple Tree edit webIt is October in Georgia, and the morning air has that hint of crispness that means it is apple-picking time in the North Georgia Mountains.  This is one of my family’s favorite fall activities, and if we can tack it on to the end of a camping trip like we do most years, that is even better.

This year’s trip to the orchards around Ellijay, Georgia was a bit of a spur of the moment excursion.  We found ourselves with a beautiful weekend in late September, so we called up a couple of friends, loaded them into the car, and headed north on a sunny Sunday afternoon.  We typically like to go to the B. J. Reece Orchard on Highway 52 because they allow dogs in the orchards, and when we stop by on our way home from our favorite camping spot nearby, we always have our dog with us.  This year, however, we left Dixie at home since the four kids already in the backseats were enough to handle.

Over the years, the local orchards have expanded their entertainment options to keep apple pickers and their money on the farm longer.  There are pig races and petting zoos.  You can milk a real, live cow.  The apple cannons at B. J. Reece are cool as is the zip line over the orchard, if you are into that sort of thing.  (It would be my own special version of torture to go flying over the treetops, but to each his own.)  The 10-year-old boys in our crew enjoyed the jumping pillow for quite a long time.  Hillcrest Orchard down the road has putt-putt, and each of the orchards in the area put their own special stamp on orchard and farm activities.  They all have websites to help you plan your visit.

AP Sign edit webThe fried apple pies alone are worth the trip.

One of the surprising things about apple picking is how quickly the bags fill up.  It feels like you have just started working your way through the orchard when, before you know it, you have convinced yourself that a family of four can eat a whole bushel of apples before they go bad.  Seriously, it happens to everybody.

Enter Commissioner Nellie Duke to the rescue.  We talked about Miss Nellie and her Nellie’s Jellies back in May during strawberry season.  In addition to yummy strawberry preserves, Miss Nellie makes a fantastic apple butter too.  She has graciously agreed to share her recipe with us so we can take advantage of the bountiful apple goodness of our state.

If you have never been apple picking before, the Georgia Apple Festival in Ellijay, Georgia is a great place to start.  This year the festival is October 10th-11th and October 17th-18th.  They have apples, apple products, local crafts, an antique car show, and a parade.  While you are there, get a bushel or two of apples, and turn them into Miss Nellie’s Apple Butter.


Nellie’s Apple Butter Recipe


1 Bucket Fresh Apples (approximately 10 lbs.)
3 lbs. granulated sugar
2 lbs. dark brown sugar
3/4 cup powdered cinnamon
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons apple pie spice
2 teaspoons nutmeg

Wash and peel apples. Cut into small pieces, removing cores and seed. Place in pot with small amount of water. Bring to boil, cook slowly until tender, stirring occasionally. When apple pieces fall apart, remove from heat. If there is liquid left, drain, then use potato masher or other instrument to crush into applesauce. Add sugars, the spices and vinegar. Bring to a slow boil, stirring constantly. You can tell by color, aroma, consistency and TASTE, when it has cooked enough. ( usually 15-20 minutes, slow boil) If it is too spicy, add more applesauce. If not spicy enough, add more cinnamon or apple pie spice to taste.

Pour into sterilized, dried, jars. Place sterilized lids on top of jar. Screw on top until very tight. Turn upside-down (invert), let stand for 15-30 minutes, then turn right-side up! Allow to cool, and you are done!

YIELD: 1 to 1 1/2 gallons apple butter.

NOTE: If fresh apples are not available, you may use unsweetened applesauce. Also, if you like “chunky” apple butter, reserve a few apples cut into very small pieces, and add a few minutes before cooking is finished, just boiling long enough to soften a little. That will add some “chunkiness” to your apple butter recipe!

B. J. Reece Orchard and Apple House

B. J. Reece Orchard and Apple House




Karla Jacobs is a member of the Georgia Commission on Women.  She lives in Marietta with her husband, two kids, a dog, and some fish.  Her favorite Georgia apples are Mutsu, Arkansas Black, and Stayman Winesap.



Senate Study Committee on Youth Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders

The Georgia Senate Study Committee on Youth Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders met on September 15, 2015.  The committee heard from Travis Fretwell, Director, Office of Behavioral Health Prevention, Garry McGiboney, Ph.D, Georgia Department of Education, and Neil Campbell, Executive Director, Georgia Council on Substance Abuse.

Travis Fretwell, Director, Office of Behavioral Health Prevention


Garry McGiboney, Ph.D, Georgia Department of Education


Neil Campbell, Executive Director, Georgia Council on Substance Abuse

Presentation in PDF form here:  Why We Need Prevention for substance use (1)


Next study committee meeting will be October 7, 2015 from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm.

Access to Healthcare is Limited for Women in Rural Georgia

Dome 3 edit webThe Georgia Senate Women’s Adequate Healthcare Study Committee met for the first time on Monday, September 14, 2015 at the State Capitol and focused on the availability of OB/GYN services and chronic disease management services in Georgia.  The committee heard from Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, Commissioner and State Health Officer for the Georgia Department of Public Health, Ms. Melanie McNeal, Long-term Care Ombudsman with the Department of Human Services, and Dr. Catherine Bonk, President of the Georgia OBGYN Society.

Dr. Fitzgerald led with the most shocking statistic of the day—Georgia ranks 50th in maternal mortality in the U.S.  We lose new moms at a higher rate than any other state in the nation.  The Georgia Department of Public Health in partnership with OB/GYNs in the state is conducting more extensive studies to understand better the underlying causes.  They have also worked with state coroners to gather better cause of death data on death certificates to help them in their research.

Our infant mortality rate is high, but falling.  In 2012, Georgia was ranked 44th in the U.S., and by 2014, we had fallen to 31st.  Part of the success can be attributed to a public/private partnership to reduce early elective deliveries in the state.  Between 2012 and 2014, the early elective delivery rate dropped from 8 percent of births to 1 percent of births, and as of October 1, 2013, Medicaid no longer pays for early elective deliveries in Georgia.

The leading cause of death for Georgia women is cardiovascular disease.  In fact, every day twenty-nine women die in Georgia from cardiovascular disease.  The state is fighting this disease on three fronts.  They are working to reduce obesity rates.  Almost a third of Georgians are obese, up from 10 percent in 1990, and two-thirds of Georgians would be classified as overweight or obese.  There are on-going education efforts to teach better eating habits and encourage exercise.  Diabetes is also a driver in the rates of cardiovascular disease in the state.  Women are diagnosed more than men are, and there is a push to increase the number of Diabetes Self-Management Education sites in the state.  The third front is reducing tobacco use in the state through programs like the Georgia Tobacco Quit Line at 1-877-270-STOP.  Dr. Fitzgerald also discussed cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.



Ms. Melanie McNeal, Long-term Care Ombudsman with the Georgia Department of Human Services, talked about the challenges faced by older women in the state.  Learning to manage chronic disease is vitally important to our aging population, particularly diseases like diabetes.  Preventing falls is another focus for our seniors, and local community groups are offering programs like A Matter of Balance and Tai Chi to help improve balance and reduce falls.  Access to care issues from a lack of geriatricians to limits in transportation are also affecting Georgia seniors.

Dr. Catherine Bonk, president of the Georgia OBGYN Society, talked about the challenges of being an OB/GYN and ways the state can improve access to care in Georgia.  It takes twelve years of education to become an OB/GYN—four years in college, four years in medical school, and four years of residency training in OB/GYN.  Most of these doctors leave school with an average debt of $250,000.  Of the twenty-three OB/GYNs who graduate from Georgia medical schools each year, only half stay in the state.  An increase in residency slots as well as incentives for graduates to stay in the state would go a long way to increasing the number of OB/GYNs in Georgia.



A common thread that ran through all the presentations was concern for access to OB/GYN care and support programs for chronic disease in rural areas of Georgia.  Forty counties have no obstetrical care of any kind—no OB/GYN, no family physician doing OB, no midwife—and more than 70 counties have no OB/GYN physician.  Twenty-four percent of pregnant women in Georgia have to drive 45 minutes or more for obstetrical care.

There were possible solutions offered as well.  Telemedicine is one way to deliver services in rural areas and is already in use in Georgia.  However, it needs to be expanded.  Programs encouraging OB/GYNs to stay in the state and incentives for working in rural areas would help close up some of the access gap.  More certified nurse midwife programs would also expand care.  As always, public education is vital to encourage women to use the programs available to them.

The Senate Women’s Adequate Healthcare Study Committee will meet three more times.  Those dates and times are:

October 6, 2015, 9:00 am to 12:00 noon, at Georgia Regents University, Augusta
Topics will cover diseases that most affect women—cancer, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis

October 26, 2015, 9:00 am to 12:00 noon, at Tift Regional Health Centers, Tifton
Topics will cover rural healthcare, access to obstetrical care, and telemedicine.

November 9, 2015, 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm, at the State Capitol Room 450
Topics will cover the socio-economic status of women and domestic violence

All committee meetings are open to the public.


Karla Jacobs is a member of the Georgia Commission on Women.  She lives in Marietta with her husband, two kids, a dog, and some fish. 

House Study Committee on Health, Education, and School-Based Health Centers

During the 2015 General Assembly session, the Georgia House approved HR 640 creating the House Study Committee on Health, Education, and School-Based Health Centers.  This study committee is exploring ways to expand Georgia’s school-based health centers to meet the needs of under served children and youth in our schools. The study committee met on September 15, 2015 at the State Capitol and heard the following presentations.


Presentation by Dr. Veda Johnson, Director of Partners for Equity in Child & Adolescent Health, Emory Univ School of Medicine



Presentation by Shea Ross, Director of Development and Government Affairs, with Global Partnership for Telehealth



Presentation by E Fener Sitoff with Voices for Georgia Children



The House Study Committee on Health, Education, and School-Based Health Centers was created by HR 640.  It reads:

HR 640

WHEREAS, there is a profound connection between a student’s health status and educational

achievement; and


WHEREAS, improving and maintaining health so that students are present, engaged, and

hopeful is critical to their academic success; and


WHEREAS, school-based health centers are an evidence-based model of health care that

address the complex health care needs of underserved children and adolescents; and


WHEREAS, school-based health centers support improved education outcomes; and


WHEREAS, school-based health centers improve academic achievement by improving the

physical and mental status of students, thereby raising attendance rates, increasing seat time,

reducing dropout rates, and improving classroom attention and behavior, all of which

improve school climate; and


WHEREAS, school-based health centers promote positive youth development by helping to

reduce risky behaviors, such as alcohol and drug abuse; and


WHEREAS, school-based health centers are organized through collaboration among schools,

communities, and health providers; and


WHEREAS, school-based health centers utilize an interdisciplinary team approach to

providing access to coordinated primary health care within the context of family and

community; and


WHEREAS, school-based health centers operate exclusively for the purpose of providing

health services, such as primary care, preventive health care, management and monitoring

of chronic health conditions, behavioral health care, oral health care, and health promotion

services; and


WHEREAS, school-based health centers can be the first, and at times the only, access point

for continuous and comprehensive care for children with a variety of complex medical,

behavioral, and social needs; and


WHEREAS, school-based health centers can reduce emergency room use and

hospitalizations and provide access to and increase use of primary care, especially among

children with chronic diseases, such as asthma; and


WHEREAS, school-based health centers have been proven to reduce costs to the Medicaid

program through reductions in pharmacy costs, emergency department visits,

hospitalizations, and use of non-emergency transportation; and


WHEREAS, Georgia ranks 42nd among the states in its development of school-based health



There is created the House Study Committee  on Health, Education, and School-Based Health Centers.

Illuminating Global Goals for Sustainable Development

This is a big week for global anti-poverty efforts.  Later this week, world leaders will gather in New York City at the United Nations to ratify the Global Goals for Sustainable Development, a framework to end extreme poverty for the world’s poorest people.  Rock star Bono of U2 fame and co-founder of the ONE Campaign described the excitement as only he can.

If you are allergic to fanfare you’d better bolt your doors and shutter your windows on September 25, because there is going to be a lot of it that day in the vicinity of the United Nations, when world leaders ratify the Global Goals for Sustainable Development. This is a genuinely big deal, of large consequence — let’s hope — especially for the poorest people on the planet.

During the lead-up to the Global Goals ratification ceremonies, people around the world are celebrating with unveiling events in more than 100 locations across the globe.  The Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta hosted Global Goals Illumination on September 21, 2015 as part of the worldwide celebration.  High school and college students from around Atlanta introduced the goals one by one, and local international aid experts discussed their expected impact, particularly for women and girls in developing countries.  The evening ended with a moving interfaith prayer service.

The goals themselves are wide-ranging and ambitious, with emphasis on ending extreme poverty in the developing world, defined as living on less than $1.25 per day.   They are the work of more than 150 nations and represent a vision of a more peaceful and prosperous world.

Global Goals for Sustainable Development

1. No Poverty
2. Zero Hunger
3. Good Health and Well-Being
4. Quality Education
5. Gender Equality
6. Clean Water and Sanitation
7. Affordable and Clean Energy
8. Decent Work and Economic Growth
9. Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
10. Reduced Inequalities
11. Sustainable Cities and Communities
12. Responsible Consumption and Production
13. Climate Action
14. Life Below Water
15. Life On Land
16. Peace and Justice/Strong Institutions
17. Partnerships for the Goals

As I listened to the optimistic voices of the students reading the goals, it struck me just how small the world has become in my lifetime.  We can easily see outside the small confines of our communities and feel compassion for people a world away living in dire poverty and indescribable circumstances.  It is unbelievable that slightly more than a billion people worldwide live on less than $1.25 a day—a third of the cost of a Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks.

The Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta

The Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta

The United Nations 2015 Global Goals remind all of us that we are global citizens.  There are ways that you can contribute to the success of these goals internationally.  Advocacy groups like the ONE Campaign are a fantastic source of information on initiatives that are going on around the world.  CARE, led by Georgia’s own Michelle Nunn, works directly on poverty fighting initiatives in the world’s poorest nations.  Groups like Compassion International and Heifer International are also avenues to directly affect the lives of children and communities in the poorest areas of the world.

I encourage you to take the time to click on the links above and take a closer look at the Global Goals and their potential impact on the world we live in.  I could not help thinking how impossible some of these goals seem.  No Poverty.  Zero Hunger.  Really?  Then it hit me:  to shoot far you have to aim high, and if we each do our part in our own spheres of influence and in the global community, we can alleviate extreme poverty at home and abroad and end the suffering that comes with it.  It will take all of us.


Karla Jacobs is a member of the Georgia Commission on Women.  She lives in Marietta with her husband, two kids, a dog, and some fish.  She is also a proud supporter of the ONE Campaign.

Odyssey of the Mind Is In The Air

The teams work for months.  A team member has an idea so huge that she cannot sit down.  She gestures wildly and pantomimes what it will look like in action.  That sparks the next kid to stand up with an add-on he just thought of, and soon the whole team is laughing and shouting over each other as the plan starts to come together.  The ideas get more and more off the wall, and before you know it, the kids have collapsed in giggles, totally cracking themselves up.

Creativity is the name of the game in Odyssey of the Mind, a worldwide competition in divergent problem solving skills.  Teams from across the U.S. and around the world choose from a list of problems to solve and present their solutions at regional and state tournaments.  The top teams head to the worldwide competition in May each year.  Teams can choose to make a vehicle, build a balsa wood structure, create a skit, or engineer gadgets.

The team had to create a silent movie, so they chose to do make-up and costumes to look like they are on black and white film.

The team had to create a silent movie, so they chose to do make-up and costumes to look like they are on black and white film.

Odyssey of the Mind is all about STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math), a vital component in preparing our students for careers in the Information Age.  Teams who build vehicles learn about propulsion methods and basic machines.  The structure builders have to understand basic physics and the limits of their materials.  (One of the balsa wood and glue structures that won at Georgia State Finals this year held over 1,000 pounds before the judges ran out of weights to stack on it.)  The performance problem teams must make their own sets and costumes and are always required to have one element that is engineered in some way.  All of the components of every problem must fit into a team created story, so they all have a visual art and performance art part of the solution for the judges to score.

Girls flock to Odyssey of the Mind, and from my unscientific observations at Georgia competitions, they make up at least half of the competitors.  Girls love this program, which is fabulous because it is a great introduction for girls to STEAM.

Waiting in the wings for their cue.

Waiting in the wings for their cue.

I was curious why Odyssey of the Mind would be attractive to a large segment of girls when other STEM activities, like robotics, do not attract as many.  I went straight to the source and asked the girls on my daughter’s Odyssey of the Mind team from last school year, and their answers surprised me.

My daughter, Abby, loves that the competitions attract other kids who are creative, out-of-the-box thinkers.  The problem solutions are infinite and bound only by the creativity of the kids solving them, and the kids themselves thrive on the challenge.  She likes breaking the problems apart and coming up with solutions to the individual pieces and then figuring out how to stitch them back together in a way that makes sense.

The social, teamwork aspect was what drew in her friend, Emily.  Their team formed when a group of friends got together and asked their school to sponsor them in the competition.  Meetings were a fun way for the kids to spend time together being creative and silly.  Emily is not interested in engineering and building stuff, but she enjoyed the storytelling component and the visual art of makeup and costumes to make the story come together.

EmilyRosa thinks girls like Odyssey of the Mind because it is not considered a “boy thing” or a “girl thing,” and the word she used to describe it was “open.”  She said girls do not always think they will be accepted in activities like robotics.  Like Emily and Abby, she also liked the artistic and performance aspect of the competition.  It was fun telling a story and building useful things.

One thing Rosa said to me caught my attention and made me pause.  She said, “When we are little, boys are given robots and girls are given princesses and unicorns.”  I think what she is saying here is the stereotypes about STEM are taking hold earlier than we think.

I talked about this with a friend who spent her career in IT and often found herself one of only a handful of women in that role in her company.  She agreed with Rosa.  Jeanna’s love of all things computer began when her parents bought her brother a computer.  He was not all that interested in it, but she enjoyed learning how to use it and program it.  (To be fair to the parents of our generation, home computers were new in the 1980s and early 1990s when we grew up, and not many homes had them to begin with.  It would never have occurred to me to want one, although my brother had one.)

Chicken props made from latex gloves.

Chicken props made from latex gloves.

So how do we introduce STEM to girls earlier?  We gave Abby non-traditional toys when she was little.  One year we gave her a Thomas the Train set for Christmas.  If you are not familiar with Thomas the Train (where have you been?), the engines have names and faces, stories and personalities.  There are a whole slew of books and videos where the engines have adventures.

Abby and I would set up the track, she would connect the train cars, and they would travel around the track for about a minute and a half.  For the next half hour or so, the engines would ride around in the stroller, go to the doctor, and have play dates.  In other words, she played with them like dolls.

We gave the exact same train set to my son when he came along.  Daniel stacked up stuff on the track for the engines to mow down, and they had some spectacular crashes.  Two kids, same parents, same toy, different play styles.  In my family at least, the kids played with them in ways that were traditional to their genders.

We have become more sensitive to the messages we are giving girls at a young age about their career and life options.  Remember the talking Barbie that said, “Math is hard”?  There was a righteous and warranted uproar, and that product left the market quickly.  However, it sounds like we still need to work harder to find ways to introduce girls to STEM concepts that are more interesting to them and the ways they like to play.

The Director and the Villan

The Villain and the Director

That is where Odyssey of the Mind comes in big time.  Children as young as kindergarten can participate, and many schools include Odyssey of the Mind as part of their curriculum.  It truly is a fantastic program.

If your school does not have an Odyssey of the Mind program, it is easy to start one.  At our elementary school, parents run the program with support from staff.  Parents coach the teams and get them ready for competition.  Our principal, librarian, counselor, and teachers help by being judges on competition day.  At the middle school, the kids do most of the work with a teacher coaching and parents helping with administrative stuff.

You do not need to go through your school to have a team.  At competition, we see homeschool teams and community teams registered through a church or community center.

The Georgia Odyssey of the Mind website is the best place to go to get information on how to start a team.  You will want to do it soon to give your teams plenty of time to develop their problem solution.  We have started as late as January, but that was too hectic.  You and your kids will enjoy the process more the more time you give yourself.

I hope you see you at competition this year!

The team and their coach, Theresa Allen.

Back Row L-R:  Emily, Rosa, Abby, Marcos;  Front Row L-R:  Thomas, Coach Theresa Allen, David




Karla Jacobs is a member of the Georgia Commission on Women.  She lives in Marietta with her husband, two kids, a dog, and some fish.  She geeks out at Odyssey of the Mind competitions almost as much as the kids do.

Photos by Tracy Williams