Expanding Your Horizons Invites Middle School Girls To Cool Conference



By Amy Rowley

oly fed sponsorOne glance through the workshop choices and I’m hooked.  I want to know how pieces of steel are joined together.  I am curious about what materials are used in road building.  I will sign up to hear Dr. Meghan Hook talk about a day in the life of a veterinarian.

Alas, I’m not invited to the workshops.  I don’t get to learn about sound design, air quality experiments, or how to remove toxins from personal care products.  To spend the day learning this fascinating information, you must be a female middle school student.

On March 2, over 200 middle school girls will descend on South Puget Sound Community College (SPSCC).

The college is host to the 24th annual Expanding Your Horizons conference which brings professional women together with middle school girls.

During the all-day event, the students will attend workshops led by 45 female mentors – professional women working in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.  These women volunteer to lead engaging, hands-on workshops about their chosen careers.

“I like what I do and I know that girls are interested in (my field),” shares Dr. Meghan Hook who will present on her experiences as a veterinarian.

Expanding Your Horizons coordinator, Katya Miltimore explains that the organization started in California in the mid 1970s by a group of female scientists and engineers.  Sixteen similar conferences are held in Washington State and more than 800,000 girls have attended conferences nationwide.

Some students still have a general unfamiliarity with STEM based careers.  Expanding Your Horizons is hoping to reverse the trend by showing middle school girls successful role models and interesting career choices within STEM fields.

The conference has three goals:

  •      Increase young women’s interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
  •      Provide an opportunity to meet women working in non-traditional fields.
  •      Foster awareness of careers for women in STEM fields.

In its 24th year, the local conference can accommodate around 240 students.  “We want to keep small groups so that each student has better hands-on interactions during the workshop,” explains Miltimore.

Nancy Deakins, who has been involved in the conference for nine years, is a civil engineer, and Assistant Program Manager with the Washington Department of Enterprise Services overseeing much of the state’s design and construction program.  She first attended the event ten years ago, when her daughter participated as a student.  Now, Deakins recruits women mentors for the conference.

“We also offer parent workshops geared to understanding how to keep their girls involved in technology, as well as parenting advice during those critical middle school years,” explains Deakins.  The parent workshops correspond with the student schedule, enabling moms and dads to get practical advice as they guide their daughters through these critical and exciting years.  This year the topics include: Internet Safety, Practice Safe Text, and Teens & Sleep.

Holding the conference on the SPSCC campus is a great plus for the girls.  “The students are visiting a college campus, seeing how it operates and what the classrooms are like,” says Miltimore whose day job is spent raising funds for the SPSCC Foundation.

About a third of the organizing committee, led exclusively by women, are SPSCC employees.  During the event, a significant group of SPSCC employees and members of the community volunteer to help with registration, or assist girls in navigating SPSCC’s campus.

The college provides the venue free of charge which helps keep the cost to an affordable $12.  Miltimore also credits financial support from OlyFed and scholarship funds from the West Olympia Rotary.  In addition, other civic groups, such as Soroptimists International and South Puget Sound Rotary club provide small grants to help with operational costs or scholarships for the conference.  This year, a new supporter, LOTT’s WET Science Center is providing give-aways for all of the participants as well as sharing information about the Center’s programs and activities, which fully complement the objectives of Expanding Your Horizons.

During the key note event, students will have a chance to hear three short presentations from female leaders at Saint Martin’s University.  Dr. Zella Kahn-Jetter, Dean of Engineering, will talk about the “good stuff” engineers design that make the world a better place.  She will be joined by two seniors in the engineering school that will present their projects.  Also, Dr. Radana Dvorak will share her knowledge about computing and graphic design gaming.

“It’s wonderful to partner with Saint Martin’s and to be able to show girls not only working women but also college students that are excited about engineering,” adds Miltimore.

Only a few more years and then my daughters can learn how an epidemiologist solves mystery diseases, go on a mobile geocache with a land surveyor, or understand how an audiologist diagnoses hearing disorders.

For more information about Expanding Your Horizons, including registration, click here.  Registration closes on Feb. 24 and scholarships are available.

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