Five hundred young women descended on the University of Wyoming campus to learn and explore several fields mostly occupied by men — specifically, fields in science, technology, engineering and math.
Women in STEM, previously known as Women in Science, is a day full of activities and workshops to get young women in grades 7-12 excited about the fields for their college career and beyond, said Shawna McBride, associate director of the Wyoming NASA Space Grant Consortium.
“Women are still under-represented in the science and engineering fields, and we want to give young women information about career opportunities and college majors in these fields and expose them to all the opportunities out there in terms of science and engineering.”
The Consortium has hosted the event for 17 years.
The programs and attendees vary from year to year, and 26 workshops from UW entities and other organizations were available to the students during Tuesday’s event, said Michele Turner, project coordinator with the Wyoming NASA Space Grant Consortium.
“The students get excited about what’s available,” Turner said. “We have people from the Denver Zoo or the (Cheyenne Mountain Zoo) come pretty regularly. We also have (Devin Paszek) with Nature’s Educators for a falconry class.”
Other classes had students delve into the depths of chemistry, have a tour around campus or get an introduction to the various engineering fields.
Many of the 500 young women are already considering STEM field programs and careers, including Katie Arey, junior at Laramie High School, who is looking into a pharmaceuticals program.
“Well I’m kind of a science nerd, so I just like anything that has to do with science — it’s just really interesting to me,” she said. “It’s really fun — I think the classes are really helpful and informative.”
Suresh Muknahallipatna, professor of electrical and computer engineering, offered workshops for three years and said such events could be influencing students to join the major and other similar programs.
“Our computer engineering enrollment is going up,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it’s entirely because of this program, but we are having increasing women enrollment.”
Two female majors of electrical engineering showed the capabilities of brain activity on future electronic devices. Both women’s fathers were engineers, which they said pushed them toward the profession. However, that wasn’t the single driving factor.
“I did a similar program when I was in school,” senior Cena Miller said. “I thought it was a great opportunity. There are so few women in electrical engineering, and I’ve had a great experience here, and I’d like to see more women get involved.”
Other undergraduate students were helping with the several activities and devices shown to the groups of young women.
“We’ve got various robots and stuff the university has we’re going to demo,” he said. “Just general stuff to get the kids involved and show what we’re all about. The whole thing is meant to show engineering is not intimidating — it’s not something super hard and alien. Really, anyone can do it if they just apply themselves.”
Women in STEM will not be the last workshop the electrical engineering department will help with, Muknahallipatna said.
“This summer, we will bring 75 teachers for workshops,” he said. “We’ll be teaching them how to use Arduinos and Raspberry Pis so they can go back and use it in the classroom. We can’t go to all of the high schools, so we’re doing the next best thing.”
The two devices are small electronics or computers which can be used for teaching the basics of computing.
Regardless of future meetings, Miller said the Women in STEM program is a very important step in getting young women involved in a field she loves.
“I’ve had 99 percent positive experiences,” she said. “I was intimidated as well, when I came in. But the professors have all been very encouraging and excited to have representation of women in the field, and there’s a lot of opportunities that go along with that. The classes here, I feel, gave me the foundation to feel like I know this information as well as any of my peers, and that makes me feel comfortable.”