Sometime between girlhood and adulthood, America's young women start to lose confidence in themselves, according to a study released recently by the American Association of University Women. By the time they reach high school, said the AAUW, young women have reduced expectations about themselves that soon lead to poor career choices.

The gap between an adolescent boy's and an adolescent girl's self-esteem is especially apparent when it comes to math and science.Adolescent girls traditionally have tended to shy away from advanced math classes such as trigonometry and calculus. Such decisions are reflected in consistently lower math scores on college entrance exams for young women.

And the test scores are only the beginning. As they move on to college, fewer women enroll in disciplines requiring math and science skills.

At the University of Utah, for example, only 11 percent of engineering students are women. Later, when they move into the job market, that failure to get the math and science credentials required for today's increasingly technical jobs means that a woman's earning power suffers.

Young women who shy away from science and math would do well to at least memorize figures such as these: Women nationwide earn, on average, 59 cents for every dollar earned by men; 53 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 64 are employed; one in three women over age 60 now lives in poverty.

In Utah, one answer to the gender gap in math and science is the Math/Science Network, a volunteer effort to encourage young girls to pursue different school and career choices.

The group now sponsors five workshops a year throughout the state, serving over 2,000 junior high and high school girls. The next workshop is slated for Saturday, Feb. 23, at the University of Utah.

School counselors and parents should follow the Math/Science Network's lead. Utah's young women need to know that they have many skills and many options - and that a decision in high school to pursue calculus or chemistry might be the formula for future success.