An astrophysicist from the University of Virginia told 550 middle school girls Monday to ignore the voices of self doubt in their heads when it comes to tackling studies in science, technology, electronics or mathematics

“It matters that you don’t just give up,” Professor Kelsey Johnson said at the second annual Girls’ in STEM-H event at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise.

Johnson explained that girls from elementary school to high school lose confidence 3.5 times more than boys. Girls’ in STEM-H is designed to encourage young girls to keep an interest in those academic fields.

Johnson is an award-winning teacher and advocate for public astronomy education. She teaches Unsolved Mysteries in the Universe, one of the most popular courses in astronomy at the University of Virginia. She is also the director of the Dark Skies, Bright Kids Program for schoolchildren.  She is the director of UVA’s Echols Scholars Program, which offers special opportunities to UVA students who have demonstrated curiosity and self-motivation.

UVa-Wise professors and students spend the day crafting hands on experiments with the sixth grade girls to show them that the science is fun and interesting, and that the youngsters are perfectly capable of tackling those challenging fields of study. Students build bridges, worked with UVa-Wise nursing students on simulated patients, and worked with computer technology and virtual reality projects.

UVa-Wise Chancellor Donna P. Henry said Girls’ Day in STEM-H is a gift of discovery for the young girls.

“I hope you know and I hope you believe that you can do and be whatever you please,” Henry said. “You can be a doctor, an astronaut, a veterinarian, a mathematician, an engineer, a technologist, or like me, a college chancellor. Reach high. Dream big and never give up on your dreams.”

Girls’ Day in STEM-H was held in the David J. Prior Convocation Center on the UVa-Wise campus.