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UTHSC professor creates Web site that interests girls in math and science

San Antonio (July 11, 2003) —

This is the tale of the Whyvillians down in Whyville
       who travel the earth in their Warp Mobile,
               assist a few lost space aliens along their journey,
       and return home to put an end to an outbreak of Whypox
               in a hurry.

It sounds like an excerpt from a Dr. Seuss book. Instead, these are activities performed by real children from around the world on the pages of the colorful Whyville Web site. Launched by its creator, James Bower, Ph.D., professor of radiology at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSC), the purpose of Whyville.net is to get children, especially young girls, more interested in the sciences. The site provides exciting, interactive and educationally relevant content and activities. This year, Whyville.net was nominated, alongside Disney's Toontown Online and others, for the prestigious Webby Award. Recognition with a Webby Award, presented by The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, is the leading international honor for achievement in technology, creativity and individual achievement.

Dr. Bower worked with a team of educators, scientists, artists and Internet gurus for more than 15 years to create Whyville. The result is a fascinating world of Dr. Seussian proportion, but with a modern-day, techno-savvy intrigue.

Whyville boasts nearly 300,000 registered users, more than half of which are females between the ages of 11 and 13. This is good news since The National Science Foundation's Report, "Women, Minorities and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Education 2000," indicated that women are less likely than men to choose careers in science and engineering. The numbers and percentages of women earning bachelor's degrees in computer science also decreased in the last decade.

"Whyville.net works to counter that trend through science education for children that is interactive and technologically sophisticated, yet still connected to the real world of teachers, students and classrooms. Users become part of a community of learners who are constantly challenged by new scientific subjects and related, interesting activities," Dr. Bower said.

Local children are benefiting, right alongside children across the nation and the world, from what Whyville.net has to offer.

Shelsea Ramirez, an eighth-grader in the Harlandale Independent School District, says her favorite Whyville activity is the skater game. "The skater game is challenging because you have to think about how you're going to make the skater spin faster and faster," Ramirez said. "It's kind of funny when she falls down, but it's also fun when you get it right because you get to be an Olympic Champion for a while."

Dr. Bower is working to expand the site to include versions in Spanish and Chinese. Some exciting activities Whyvillians can look forward to in the near future include the building of a space station by the Whyville Aeronautics and Space Administration (WASA), which will launch a trip to Mars, a turtle conservation project, and numerous exercises in nutrition.

"While a growing number of children and teachers, especially in Texas, have classroom access to the Internet, there are still relatively few Internet sites specifically designed to support constructive science learning. Whyville.net motivates and engages students in a safe Internet learning environment," Dr. Bower said.

And with a tool like Whyville.net, combined with the imagination and curiosity of children from all walks of life, there's no telling when a few young San Antonians turned Whyvillians will become the next astronauts to travel to the moon.

Take a virtual tour of Whyville.net and find out how to become a registered user. For more information, send an e-mail to city-management@whyville.net. To see the nominees and winners of the Seventh Annual Webby Awards, visit http://www.webbyawards.com/main/.

Contact: Natalie Gutierrez or Will Sansom