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More than 100 eight-grade girls attend Super STEM Girl Conference at ISU

October 18, 2017

POCATELLO — A fashion show not centered on the models’ beauty alone, but also their intellect, confidence and determination — their “superpowers” — capped the final presentation of the first Super STEM Girl Conference on Tuesday.

In addition to hearing from several superhero models, capes and all, more than 170 eighth-grade girls from middle-schools throughout Pocatello explored their own superpowers with hands-on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math activities located at various locations on the campus of Idaho State University.

Hosted by the Center for New Directions, a career counseling center at ISU’s College of Technology, this is the first event catered to middle school students; however, the previous event Women and Work, which featured high school students, happened annually for the past 17 years, according to Assistant Director and Counselor, Dianne Norton.

“We decided to change it to eighth-grade students because we want to influence them when they are younger so that they have more time to make decisions about what field they might want to enter in the STEM world,” Norton said. “We want them to be able to take the right classes in high school that will prepare them for college.”

The participants started their day with a tour around campus with various hands-on activities completed in groups at stops along the way. Norton said each group of girls had a group with a corresponding superhero as the mascot. Each group toured 16 different degree programs such as chemistry, computer-assisted drafting and various health professions.

One activity included an army girl catapult exercise where the girls would take various supplies — a paper cup, rubber-bands and popsicle sticks — and build a catapult followed by a contest to see who could launch their army girl the farthest or the highest.

“The reason we do the hands-on activities is because we want them to try new things outside of their comfort zone,” Norton said. “We want them to say something like, ‘Wow, that was fun,’ or, ‘That was something that I was actually really good at.’ We are trying to build that self-confidence and want to put their analytical skills, problem-solving and critical thinking to good use so that they will open the door to a STEM field.”

Though to a lesser degree than in the past, women remain underrepresented in STEM occupations, with the greatest disparities occurring in engineering, computer science, and the physical sciences, according to the National Science Foundation.

Though more than 50 percent of the workforce are women, only 29 percent of the people working in science and engineering professions are women.

“The STEM occupations are usually higher-paying, in-demand jobs that women can do to support themselves and make good money doing so,” Norton said. “We want them to find a job where they can climb the career ladder.”

Carrie Taylor, a product engineer, and Lynda Pierson, a material analyst, both at ON Semiconductor, were two of 12 volunteers who helped guide the tour and activities on Tuesday.

Working examples of the messaging the event hopes to convey, Taylor said she was thrilled to be a role model and example for the pupils.

“It’s important to show girls who are still developing ideas and interests interesting fields and show them what you can do with science and engineering,” Taylor said. “We did some experiments with magnetos today and the girls were very interested in how all of the science was working. It’s great to see the interest and the enthusiasm is alive at a younger age.”

And while the goal is to encourage the girls to engage with any STEM related field, Pierson said that if one idea stuck with the students the most she hopes that is the importance of math in general.

“I really want girls and all kids to start thinking about math and realize that it is a skill, not a talent,” Pierson said. “It’s something that you have to work hard at to become good at, but math is the language to understanding technology, science or engineering.”

Norton said that oftentimes girls are reluctant to enter STEM fields because they don’t feel like they are capable or because they can’t do the work as well as men could. As another means to overcome this stigma, Krystal Chanda, a civil engineer with A&E Engineering, Inc. and the lead engineer on the Portneuf Wellness Complex, spoke to the girls as a keynote speaker.

“I’m an engineer and I love to promote the STEM fields to young girls and encourage them because I know it can be scary for girls to enter male-dominated fields,” Chanda said. “There is this stigma that girls aren’t as smart as boys, but I want them to know they can do anything they put their mind to.”

Chanda added that her favorite part of the day is knowing that if one girl left Tuesday’s event and later decided she wants to become a scientist or an engineer she knows it’s made a difference and for her that’s how you reverse the trend.

And it would seem, based off eight-grade Irving Middle School student Lauren Yee, that Chanda’s favorite part of the day is truly impacting the next generation of women in STEM related professions.

“The stuff that we learned today are skills that we will definitely need in the future,” Yee said. “I mean, math is important if you want to be a doctor because you need to know exactly how much blood to draw. People think that STEM fields are just for boys, but a lot of girls are interested in science and technology, too.”

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