Women STEM Professionals Inspire Middle School Girls to Explore Sciences
The word "stem" is easy to remember. It's just four letters, one syllable. The word is a familiar one in the American English vocabulary as it can have several meanings. When you use it as an acronym, STEM takes on a whole new meaning that is greater and more complex than the rest, yet it's still easy to remember. When today's doctors, scientists, engineers and mathematicians were just kids, there was no simple acronym to refer to the difficult and challenging areas of science, technology, engineering and math.
Today's young students, however, living in the digital era, are exposed to STEM almost every day of their lives. But still, many believe more changes should take place in the world of STEM. Careers in science, technology, engineering and math fields were once thought of as careers for men. In some cases, they may still dominated by men.
St. John Regional Catholic School in Frederick took action to get girls interested in the sciences as a career. Rosanna Rensberger, the enrichment coordinator at SJRCS, organized a STEM Career Fair which took place at the school on May 22. The fair was open to all girls in the community, however, Rensberger's intended participants were middle school girls, so they may consider pursuing the sciences in high school.
At the fair, the girls interacted with about 15 female mentors to see what career paths might be available for them in the future. The mentors were women who work in STEM fields in the Frederick community.
"My daughter is in 4th grade at SJRCS and she has a natural curiosity that lends itself to STEM topics," said presenter Julia Solarczyk Donnelly, team lead for Regulatory Affairs for the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity. "I thought that participating in the fair would not only set a good role model for my daughter, but it would also be a great outreach opportunity for army medicine."
Donnelly spoke to several young girls about her 20 years in the biotechnology industry, and how they too can pursue this career path.
"I think the girls were a little confused at first as to why someone from the Army was there. After all, when many people think about the Army they think of tanks. It was encouraging to see the girls' eyes light up when I started talking with them about our regenerative medicine projects, our drug and vaccine development efforts, as well as our prototype lab," said Donnelly.
Other presenters included an occupational therapist, nutritionist, chiropractor and chief scientific officer.
"I hope these girls take away that science isn't limited to labs and formulas. The opportunities that are out there are plentiful and open to them. We hope this event leaves the girls inspired to take on the world," said Rensberger.
The STEM Career Fair was held in the gymnasium, and just about every wall was lined with a table. The presenters set up displays about their profession at the tables, while the girls explored and asked questions about each one. Exploring seemed to be a theme at the fair. The girls were encouraged to keep exploring throughout their life.
"Explore often and always. The world is yours to explore. Take advantage of each and every opportunity provided to explore STEM fields," said Dr. Jennifer Staiger, the event's keynote speaker.
Dr. Staiger was a fitting choice to be the keynote speaker for an event like this. She is the interim dean for the School of Natural Science and Mathematics at Mount St. Mary's University. Staiger has an accomplished background in biology and science education, but most importantly, she is a female who overcame a challenging path to achieve what she has today.
"Let's talk numbers. Male students are two times more likely than female students to take computer science courses. Three times more likely to take engineering courses, and four times more likely to enroll in advanced placement computer science and mathematics courses. Women make up half of the college-educated U.S. work force, but only one-third of the science and engineering workforce," she said during her opening speech.
Staiger went on to say she believes there are a host of reasons why women lack an equal presence in STEM fields. These include a lack of female role models, a desire to have children and be present in their lives, or possibly intimidation by male colleagues.
Rensberger commented on the fact that this is the first time SJRCS has hosted a STEM Career Fair.
"We are taking a small bite, and then we'll grow from here," she said. "I say this is the inaugural one – I'm hoping we have the first annual, and second annual, and continue the tradition even after my time on this planet."
By hosting an annual STEM Career Fair, the faculty and staff of SJRCS believes they are doing their part to introduce young women to STEM subjects at an early age, and may one day bridge the gender gap in STEM careers.