On Saturday March 11, South Puget Sound Community College (SPSCC) will be invaded by approximately 350 sixth through eighth grade girls for the 29th annual Expanding Your Horizons Thurston County event. The goal of the event, hosted by SPSCC, is to show girls that not only can woman have careers within the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, but just how many options there are in each field.

“When I was that age, I had a really limited view of what was available within the sciences,” says Joy Hobbs, co-chair of this year’s event and a past workshop teacher. “I want girls to see all the possibilities that are really out there for them.”

The event draws girls from all over the county, with over half of them coming from rural areas including Yelm, Oakville and Raymond. Kelly Green, director of public relations and events for SPSCC and Expanding Your Horizons co-chair, says they have marketed the event a lot to parents, students and teachers in rural areas. In addition, a grant from Verizon allows them to provide transportation funding for rural schools bringing large groups. The event has grown 30 percent in the last few years, which Katya Miltimore, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Thurston County and past chair of the STEM event, believes benefits the girls.

Volunteers are key to the Expanding your Horizons event, teaching workshops as well as helping girls with registration and moving throughout the SPSCC campus where the event is held. Photo courtesy: Kylie Phillips

The event costs $15 and scholarships are available “If money for transportation or registration is the only reason why a girl can’t attend, we will take care of it,” says Kelly. “We receive donations from local businesses like OlyFed that make scholarships possible and we have never had to say no to a girl yet.”

“It’s very important for the girls come to the conference and see 300 other girls that are just like them – wearing the same hoodies, same sneakers, having the same haircut,” she says. “Maybe even recognizing girls they are aren’t friends with at school, but seeing that they have the same taste in fashion as them and are also interested in learning about STEM. It makes the girls not feel lonely or nerdy when they see so many other girls with the same interests.”

Katya has witnessed this growth in STEM interest through the Boys & Girls Club as well. They have a partnership with Saint Martin’s University called “Science Exploration Series.” All five of the clubs in Thurston county bring students to these events and she has noticed that there are slightly more girls attending than boys – approximately 52 percent to 48 percent.

“This year we are on the heels of a particularly exciting event,” says Katya. “The Trump administration just signed the ‘Inspire Bill’ HR 321 that directs NASA to encourage advancement of girls in science. They have ninety days to report back their plan to inspire K-12 girls to do work towards careers in research, science, technology and engineering.”

New Workshops & Old Favorites

This year’s keynote will be given by Melanie Golob, who has a MS in biochemistry and molecular biology from University of California Los Angeles and will be presenting the award for the video contest the girls can enter.

Expanding your Horizons
Throughout the day, students will rotate through a variety of activities of their choice. Photo courtesy: Kylie Phillips

During the event, each girl attends three workshops, all taught by female experts who volunteer their time. “One of the things I am most excited about is that this year, for the first time, we have thirty-five workshops for the girls to choose from,” says Katya.

“It’s so important for girls to see female professional in these roles and get to interact with them,” she adds. “And the fact that these women work right here in our own community.”

The professionals come from all over the county, from many different fields – state patrol, colleges, scientists from state agencies, faculty from all the local colleges and more. “The mentors make or break the conference,” Kelly says. “If we didn’t have these women to teach the classes, there would be no conference. They volunteer their entire day and they do an amazing job.”

“For me, it was really exciting to talk to girls at this age,” says Joy of her teaching experience with STEM. “They were really excited and had lots of questions. I am use to talking to students at the undergrad and grad level, so it was really interesting for me to talk to younger girls and get them excited about the field I am in.”

Expanding your horizons
Workshops offer middle school girls the chance to engage with professional women in STEM careers through hands-on activities. Photo courtesy: Kylie Phillips

Each year, new workshops are added. A new one Kelly is excited about is “Light Up the Night!” taught by Jayna Williams, LC, lightening designer. The girls will learn how to make their own solar-powered night light and will discuss how solar light is helping in disaster areas and places with electricity problems.

“Storytelling with Data,” a class on how to use Microsoft Excel to look at data and make charts and graphs, is also new this year. Joy Adams, performance management coordinator and Cynthia Forland, director of labor market and performance analysis division at the Washington State Employment Security Department is teaching this one.

Rachel Van Dam and Jennifer Fields, conservation scientists and educators with AmeriCorps are co-leading a class called “The Wonderful World of Watersheds” teaching girls about watersheds and their importance to the ecosystem. The hands-on portion will include experimenting to find optimal water quality for salmon.

Finally, added from student requests, is “Everyday Acids and Bases,” exploring common household chemicals, the difference between an acid and a base and how these chemicals react. Brandy Fox, Ph.D., an assistant professor of chemistry at Saint Martin’s University, teaches this session.

expanding your horizons
Exposure to career paths they may not have considered, girls who attend Expanding Your Horizon’s come away with new ideas on their future.

Perennial favorites include “Chocolate Asphalt,” where girls make a road out of chocolate, and “A Day in the “Life of A Veterinarian” including stitching up an animal using a stuffed animals or supermarket chicken. The “Welding is HOT” workshop is always one of the biggest hits.

All workshops are hands-on. “We make sure the girls aren’t just sitting and listening for a whole day, but really getting in there and experiencing things for themselves,” Kelly says. “It’s fun at the end of the day to see them all coming into the gym with things they made – like a lump of metal they’ve welded, a polymer ice cream cone, boats.”

Workshops are offered for parents, too, for an additional $15. Topics include college prep and funding as well as issues tween and teen girls face today.

Opportunities for Older Students 

Girls who may have missed the opportunity to attend while in middle school are welcome to become volunteers helping with sign in, in the classroom or mentoring younger girls. To volunteer, visit the event website.

expanding your horizons
Middle school girls are encouraged to sign up now for the 2017 Expanding Your Horizons STEM program.

And, if you have a job in a STEM field, the group are always looking for more women to volunteer to inspire girls. “We are only limited by the number of teachers we have,” explains Katya. “The more teachers we, have the more workshops we can offer and the more girls can join us.”

Above all, they want girls to have fun and open their mind to possibilities. Maybe one of these girls will go on to bring drawings to life through 3D imaging or discover a new planet.

Visit the Expanding Your Horizons site for more information and to register.

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