At the Women in STEM conference, more than 500 middle and high school girls descended on the University of Wyoming campus to learn more about STEM careers. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math.
The girls get to attend three workshops out of a possible 25 options, and choices range from animal husbandry to chemistry and robotics.
Holly Ramseier is a senior in Chemical Engineering at UW, and is helping out today. She says the conference is all about getting your feet wet and seeing what you like.
“It’s really nice to have so many girls there with you so you don't feel like a minority at all,” says Ramseier.
On the way to the second workshop, friends Jenna Kauffman and Bailey Dagen bob down the sidewalk arm in arm. Jenna’s first workshop of the day was in microscopy.
“We just got to look at cool things through the microscope,” says Kauffman.
Bailey Dagen says she went to the Teton Raptor Center presentation. Dagen says “We got to learn about how they care for their birds there.”
In that workshop, senior avian educator Becky Collier has several raptors to show the students, and explains how they train their birds.
During the lunch hour, there are booths around the Union representing different organizations so professionals can demonstrate some of what they do. The National Weather Service has a table set up with whirring machines. Kate Coutsakis, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Cheyenne, shows off the Van De Graaff generator.
“Basically this is to simulate a lightning bolt, but what it does is you have this belt that rotates inside of it and this ball on the top which generates a charge. So when you touch it or when you touch it with our wand you get electrical discharge,” says Coutsakis.
Several girls crowd around the Van De Graaff, taking turns making it spark and conducting the mild electricity in order to shock their friends.
After lunch, it’s on to the last workshop. In one, members of the U.S. Geological Survey are teaching about groundwater and impermeable layers with ice cream floats. Sprite and ice represent clean groundwater, orange soda is pollution, and the ice cream is supposed to keep the two apart – an impermeable layer.
Eryn Jounos is a middle schooler from Cheyenne. After finishing her ice cream float, she admits she wasn’t sold on science at the beginning of the day.
“I wasn’t really super interested in science, so I thought it was going to be like something boring like science class where you sit and read out of textbooks. But no - I turned a penny into gold and got to go and look at planets. So it was pretty fun,” says Jounos.
Women are still underrepresented in STEM field vs nationwide, especially in computer science, engineering, and physics, where they make up less than 20 percent of undergraduates earning degrees.
Sarah Davis, one of the U.S.G.S. presenters leading the ice cream float workshop, says even though she works for the geological survey now she wasn’t that interested in science at their age, either.
“It would have been very cool to come to something like this just to see what different aspects of science there are,” says Davis. “It’s really cool that they can bring so much together and take so much home from it.”
And the hope is one day they’ll be back, studying and working in STEM.