Thirteen-year-old Jasmine Blount asked the guest speaker a question:
“Do you ever doubt yourself?”
“Yes, everyone doubts themselves,” answered Jerri Marr, the forest service veteran who became a celebrity during the Waldo Canyon fire. “But what do you say?”
“I have potential! I will be great,” yelled Jasmine and 350 fellow middle-school girls attending the Girls STEM conference Friday at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
The day was designed to get girls interested in science, technology, engineering and math.
The earlier they are encouraged and involved, the better they feel about themselves and their abilities, and the more likely to go into those fields, explained Lindy Conter, chairwoman of the event. In its third year, Girls in STEM is organized by 10 local groups, colleges and schools.
During the day, the students explored their potential in hands-on workshops such as Math Powered Art, Solar Car Sprint, Lego Robots, Pharmacy Science, and Unleash your Inner Inventor.
But it was Marr who provided the jolt of inspiration in an opening talk by laying bare her insecurities, challenges, and successes as a young girl in Tennessee.
When the students were asked if they recognized her, almost every hand went up.
Marr is supervisor for the Pike and San Isabel National Forests, Cimarron and Comanche National Grasslands. She’s the forester who provided the day-to-day televised Waldo fire updates, answering media and homeowner questions and winning fans with her calm demeanor, knowledge and tireless manner.
“Most people didn’t think I’d amount to much,” she told the girls.
She said her siblings would come home with great report cards, and she would hide hers in the school locker. She’d open her textbooks, study and sometimes forget it all. She did badly on her college entrance exam. She sometimes felt fearful in classes she did not understand.
“You ever feel like that?”
The girl, raptly listening, responded “YESSSSS!!!”
Marr said that when she realized that she “learned differently” it changed her life. “I was creative and it got me in trouble sometimes. Find out how you learn best.”
She told the girls they had to be willing to try new things even if it was scary. She joined a 4-H club and a wildlife and forestry club. Marr found her passion for photography and nature, which led to her career.
She told them to find their passion, make a list of what the would like to do if they could do anything for a day, a week, a month, a year, a lifetime.
Her breakthrough came at summer camp where the kids were supposed to present papers on leadership. She talked her group into making up a play.
“They didn’t want to write it. So while they were out playing, I wrote it. They came back and asked, ‘Who is going to be the star?’ I said ‘I get to be the star’.” They won the competition and got to perform the play in several venues.
Later, Marr received a full scholarship to the University of Tennessee.
The girls asked her about the Waldo Canyon fire, which blackened 18,000 acres in the foothills and destroyed 346 homes in Colorado Springs.
“It was stressful time. I did self-talk. I told myself I needed to be focused and stand tall and communicate clearly, and tell the firefighters that today will be our day.”
As the girls trailed out to their workshops, Jasmine, who wants to learn math so she can go into real estate, said she was excited about what she had heard.
“I learned I am great, and I can do anything I want to do.”
Marr said that what the girls want is hope.
“I teach them to speak hope to themselves.”
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