The inaugural I HEART STEM conference for high school girls took place on November 12th, 2016 at the student resource building at UCSB. The day long conference included various workshops aimed to educate and inspire young girls to pursue the STEM fields. Led and mentored by female graduate students and postdoctoral scholars at UCSB, the event had about 80 high school girls as attendees. Many interesting workshops were conducted, which included, using household items to build one’s own LED light, learning about engineering biomaterials, solving crimes using computer technology, and engineering one’s own chemical reaction.The event concluded with a guest speaker, Jenny Du from Apeel Sciences, who shared her experiences of what it is like for a woman to work at a startup company.
I had the opportunity to speak with two organizers of the conference: Jennifer Rauch, a postdoctoral scholar at the Neuroscience Research Institute, and Emily Wonder, a graduate student at the Materials Research Laboratory at UCSB.
How did the I HEART STEM program start? Who came up with this?
Emily: We previously started by doing middle school conferences called tech-savvy, which is a nationwide conference organized by the American Association for University Women. They fund schools to have day long conferences for 6th to 9th graders.The women’s center at UCSB heard about it and approached us regarding this.The women’s center really coordinated the events and we brought the science. We are funded by incredibly generous donors. This year, we decided that we didn’t like serving only middle school girls, and so put we on a slightly different version of tech savvy: for high-school girls.
Jennifer: That way we could amp up the science a little bit, which is always fun for us. It’s good to get middle school girls involved, but you also have to tailor the science to their learning level. Teaching at a high school level is nice, because we get to do a little bit more advanced stuff, which is fun for us too.
How many students participated in this conference today? Who can participate?
About 80 high-school students participated in the conference. We advertise to local and regional high schools, but really, anyone can participate.
“I attribute the reason I am in science to participating in a lot of science outreach events as a kid.”
What made you want to be involved? What does doing this mean for each one of you?
Emily: For most people who are scientists, they hear about all these outreach activities, especially at UCSB, because UCSB is so good about providing them. But often people might think that: “Oh, that sounds like work outside of the work I already have to do in lab.” But as soon as you try it, you realize how happy it makes you to show fun science problems to young students. And once you start, it’s really easy to just keep doing it. I did a little bit of this in undergrad and I just continued doing more of it in grad school.
Jennifer: I attribute the reason I am in science to participating in a lot of science outreach events as a kid. I remember going to a lot of workshops with my mom as a kid and absolutely loving it. Doing this is really fun for me because I get to do a lot of science experiments that I wouldn’t do in lab like making smoke rockets, for instance. We are lighting stuff on fire, watching it combust, and talking about the reactants and products that form, which isn’t something I get to do everyday—everything is not so pretty and colorful at lab. It’s a refreshing way to get people excited about science.
“The goal is to provide a lot of female role models for young girls, which is why we ask our volunteers to be women.”
Why do you think it is important for the workshops to be led and mentored by female grad students in the field?
Emily: The goal is to provide a lot of female role models for young girls, which is why we ask our volunteers to be women. But really, anyone who is interested is welcome to help.
Jennifer: It’s great to see this kind of empowerment. The idea that I can stand in front of a young girl and tell her that I do research as a living and that it is a career she can have; something you could do your whole life if you want, is pretty cool.
What do you think is unique about this conference?
Jennifer: We want to expose young girls to different types of science. I am doing the chemistry workshop and they learn about this stuff in high school. But, they don’t learn about materials research in high-school, since there is not usually a materials science class. So Emily showing them what biogels are is new information for them, something they probably didn’t know about yet. They are learning about STEM cells in one of the workshops. They have probably heard what that is, but Casey is actually showing them some STEM cells, which is something they wouldn’t have the opportunity to see in a high school or middle school setting. So I think, it’s really cool for them to see the breadth of science fields that are out there.
For anyone who is interested, how can they get involved?
Jennifer: We will be doing tech-savvy in the upcoming Spring quarter. The date has not been set yet, but it will be this same idea and we will be tailoring the science to middle schoolers. We had about 30 volunteers (see images below) ranging from undergraduates to postdocs, so anyone who wants to get involved could start by volunteering at our events.
Is there anything else you would like to add for GSDS members who are reading this post?
Emily: Women in science and engineering (WISE) is a non-profit organization on campus founded to promote equal opportunity for women and girls in the sciences. It is trying to provide a community for female graduate students and postdoctoral scholars. We have two meetings per month, where we talk about different issues we face as female postdocs and graduate students, while getting to share our experiences. Doing that is just a nice way to get to know people and build a community of women on campus—I would really recommend any female graduate student to get involved.
Photos taken by: Tarnuma Tabassum