Exploring STEM careers at the Expanding Your Horizons conference

Expanding Your Horizons conference
A few weeks ago I wrote about ways to get girls interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) careers, and I wrote about how I was keen to make sure that The Pea realizes how many opportunities there are in those fields, should she choose to pursue them.  She loves math, and she thinks she wants to work in a field related to math -- but she says science and engineering are boring. I've tried to tell her that she'll have more than her share of math if she decides to pursue an engineering degree, but she just doesn't believe me because she says her science classes don't use math at all (ahh, the arrogance of youth).

Well, if she won't listen to me, I'm hoping she might listen to other women who have pursued STEM careers.  That's why I signed us up for Expanding Your Horizons, a 1-day conference designed to introduce girls in grades 5-8 to STEM careers.  EYH holds conferences all around the country; the one we attended was held at UC Berkeley this past weekend.  The conference consists of a series of workshops run by volunteers .   Each workshop is related to a specific STEM field, and the volunteers are all professionals in that field. (Check out the full list of EYH 2014 workshops at the bottom of this post!  I copied them all down from the workshop descriptions page on the Berkeley EYH, just in case they take the page down to make way for descriptions of the 2015 workshops).  Girls who attend the workshop get to choose 3 sessions to attend.  Parents can also register for separate workshops.  The cost for girls was just $15, and the parent workshops are free.  EYH is a very popular conference. It fills up quickly, so I signed The Pea up as soon as registration opened.

The Pea was NOT happy about having to give up her Saturday for "some lame conference".  I already know that girls can succeed in science and engineering, mom.  I already know that I like math.  It might be really boring.  Why do I have to go? I told her I knew for a fact that the conference would be a lot of fun, because I had been an EYH volunteer for several years before I got married and had kids. I told her that if she really wasn't enjoying herself, we could leave after her first session.

We arrived at the Berkeley campus early on Saturday morning, and the lawn in front of the Life Sciences building was already teeming with girls.
Expanding Your Horizons conference

Each girl was given a conference t-shirt and a backpack filled with an information folder and some snacks.
Expanding Your Horizons conference

The information packet contained a personalized schedule listing the time and location of the sessions The Pea had registered for, along with a campus map to show her how to get to her sessions.
Expanding Your Horizons conference

At that point, we went our separate ways; The Pea was whisked away to their opening session, and I went to a separate auditorium for the parent workshops.  Up first: a Parent Discussion Panel, where parents could ask questions related to how they could encourage and support their daughters' interests in STEM fields, opportunities for girls to pursue STEM degrees in college, and specific strategies to prepare them for college applications for STEM degrees (I'll write about the parent sessions in more detail in a future post!).

Expanding Your Horizons conference

After the panel, parents had a 2-hour break for lunch, so I walked around the UC Berkeley campus and grabbed a bite to eat at one of the cafes on Shattuck Avenue.   On my way back to the afternoon parents' workshop, I saw the girls gathered on the lawn, having their lunch, and I surreptitiously snapped this photo of The Pea.  It warmed my heart to see how she had already made a couple of friends to laugh and hang out with.
Expanding Your Horizons conference

The afternoon parents' workshop was a lot of fun. It was run by Techbridge, an organization that runs science and engineering after school programs for girls.   The workshop leader discussed ways parents can nurture their daughters' interests in STEM, strategies to help girls overcome prejudices about STEM, and sample activities that parents could do with their kids at home.  We were given a list of online STEM resources, a list of STEM-focused summer camps around the Bay Area, and a list of toys that can help spark girls' interest in STEM (GoldieBlox, K'nex, etc..)
Expanding Your Horizons conference

The last part of the workshop was also the most entertaining -- parents got to participate in their own hands-on activity!  The parents broke up into teams of 4 and were given 10 Dixie Cups each.  We were challenged to build the tallest tower possible.  We could choose any design, but only 4 Dixie Cups could be touching the floor.  Here's the kicker: we had to everything IN SILENCE.  That's right, no talking!
Expanding Your Horizons conference

The No Talking rule really lent an interesting dimension to my team's collaboration, because we had to figure out how to work together and communicate without words.  It actually helped us form an equal partnership because no one could dominate the conversation and push their ideas on the whole group just by virtue of being the biggest talker.  I loved  my group.  We worked really well together, and the results were living proof:  we were the first to finish our tower, and ours was the second tallest.  Ours would have been the tallest, but the group with the tallest tower was trying all sorts of designs and failing, then they checked out our tower and totally copied our design and improved it to add one more layer of cups.  Not that I'm competitive or anything.
Expanding Your Horizons conference

I had a great time at the conference and came out of feeling much more equipped to talk to The Pea about STEM, and to help her see all the possibilities that exist in STEM careers.  As I expected, The Pea had a great time as well -- I didn't get any texts pleading for me to come pick her up.  She made it through all 3 of her sessions and enjoyed each one! She particularly enjoyed the Brain Changing session, where the girls put on glasses that shifted their vision to the left, then tried to throw beanbags into a hole.  Then, just as they had gotten used to it, they had to take off the glasses and re-learn the whole process!

More important, she's actually starting to see the connection between math and engineering.  She told me she was pleasantly surprised to discover the role that variables and equations play in computer programming, and I told her that one of the panelists in my morning session told parents that a strong foundation in math is pretty much essential to succeeding in technology and engineering fields!  (It's something I've tried to tell her repeatedly, but having it come from people other than her old mother seemed to do the trick).   The clincher: she said she wants to sign up for next year's conference.  I just love it when I'm right!

Here's the list of all the workshops offered at this year's conference (source: EYH Berkeley, 2014 Workshops)

All Creatures Great and Small
This workshop will introduce students to a career in veterinary medicine. Students will learn about the diverse opportunities available in the field of veterinary medicine by speaking with veterinary students and engaging in hands­-on activities with live animals.

Art in Science
Just like science plays a powerful, influential role in our daily routine, so does art. In this hybrid workshop of Art in Science, participants will explore the natural world with a creative, artistic eye--one that inspires the line of questioning that advances scientific research and inquiry.

Beyond the Field
This workshop will provide an introduction to the field of athletic training and sports medicine in a collegiate setting. You will learn about the role of the athletic trainer and sports medicine professional, how trainers combine sports and science, different opportunities for those interested in sports medicine, and a look at a typical day for a collegiate athletic trainer. You'll get to test your skills by practicing different taping techniques used for injury prevention and management in an athletic setting.

Brain Changing
How adaptable is your brain? Experiment with prism glasses that alter your vision to find out! Learn the neuroscience behind how and why your brain changes and discuss what your findings mean for how your brain learns every day.

Computer Programming: The Bossy Girl's Paradise
This workshop will teach students that computer programming is not only easy, but a fun activity that will be highly advantageous for any future endeavor. Students will learn some basic coding logic so that they can talk to computers and make computers do things they desire just as effectively as they talk to each other. They will learn how programming skills can help them think very clearly about processes, instructions, and big picture issues that integrate with their passions.

Diffusion and Osmosis: Modeling Cell Membrane Physiology
Learn about how a microscopic cell membrane performs the functions necessary to keep every cell in your body happy and healthy.

Digging the Past
In this workshop girls will get hands­-on experience with how archaeologists use archaeological materials to study how past people lived their daily lives.

Drag Racing
What makes a racecar fast? This workshop will be an introduction to aerodynamics for girls who have a need for speed. Students will get to design and test their own car clay model in a wind tunnel, and learn the concepts of engineering in a fun and easy way!

Dry Ice Investigations
What is dry ice? Explore the frosty, frothy and frozen world of dry ice as you plan and conduct your own investigations. Be prepared to discover the properties of solids, liquids and gasses in this bubbling, boiling workshop.

Fishes of California
How big do fish grow? How old do they get? Where do they go? These are just a few of the common questions fish biologists ask in California. In this hands on workshop you can try out standard methods used by biologists to understand fish growth and movement.

Fishing for a Living
How do we know what Albatrosses eat? Be a bird biologist and try your hand with bolus dissections and satellite tracking to investigate the diet and chick rearing habits of the amazing Albatross. We will use techniques used by scientists who study these birds to understand what they are eating and where they are migrating so that the species can be protected.

What is Gak? What makes a polymer different from other materials? This hands-on workshop will let girls make their own Gak to learn about characteristics of these materials and how to make different Gak with properties they want.

Genome Detectives
An introduction to basic bioinformatics and computational biology techniques used in modern biology for dealing with "big data".

A geospatial workshop connecting girls with technology, nature and geography. Learn how to use a GPS (Global Positioning System) to navigate the world around you. Explore your world with Google Earth and learn how satellite and computer technology can be used to understand environmental issues.

Googles of Fun
In this session, we'll explore how the Internet and online technology improves people's everyday experience. Come meet Google experts and learn how to envision, design, and develop useful products that solve problems.

Kinect with Your Inner Conductor!
Ever wonder how computers think? Have you dreamed of being a symphony conductor? Come conduct the music of your dreams! This workshop uses Microsoft's Kinect technology that allows body gestures to control all sorts of things. We'll teach some of computer science basics and introduce some basic algorithm ideas through a hands on activity that illustrates how computers can see and interact with you and the real world.

Life in a Vacuum
What is Vacuum? How does Vacuum affect our Life? You'll put ice, water, and steam together in a beaker and coat pennies with different colors to learn about how vacuums work. Watch marshmallow Peeps blow up in a bell jar!

Lights in the Sky
Students will be introduced to optical phenomena visible in the night sky, namely aurora and airglow, through a variety of hands­on demonstrations involving magnetism and exploration of the spectral properties of light.

Light up your Life- Glow in the Dark Chemistry
What makes a firefly light up? Or a jellyfish glow? Learn about the chemistry behind the light and conduct a hands-on experiment with glow sticks.

M&Ms & Medicine Making
Come join a young Genentech Engineer and her Regulatory partner-in-crime for a hands-on "Medicine Making" workshop, where you will learn the basic steps of biotechnology to manufacture drugs. You will come away a little smarter (and sweeter!) as you follow the steps of medicine making yourself using candy as your ingredients.

Make It and Break It
d of Environmental Design using everyday objects. As a team, make a simple structure and test it. The last team to "make it break" wins the game!

Make it Glow!
Ever wondered what make Cheetos so orange? We’ll investigate that and more using high-tech microscopes that allow biologists to study everything from molecular level interactions in single cells to the flow of blood through a beating zebrafish heart.

Nice Genes
This workshop introduces students to the field of molecular biology. Each student will extract their own DNA in a fun and easy experiment, while learning about the science behind the process. Students will also go home with their DNA in a keepsake necklace. Let’s see what you are made of!

Skull Morphology
Come see what’s under the skin! You’ll visit the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology specimen preparation laboratory where you’ll learn all about the bones that make up animals bodies.

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