Young girls learn about careers in male-dominated fields

Mike Suechting

More than 300 young girls learned what it is like to work in science, technology, engineering and math-related fields in Sacramento State’s fourth annual Expanding Your Horizons conference held Saturday in the University Union Ballroom.

The event was hosted by Sac State’s Center for STEM Excellence and the nonprofit group Women of AT&T. Event coordinator Sharon Puricelli said about 40 Sac State students from science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM disciplines volunteered as mentors to sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students from schools from around Northern California.

“The whole conference is designed to expose girls to the possibilities of a STEM career that they might otherwise not have known, to reduce the gender gap in the STEM disciplines, and to encourage them to stay with their studies during this crucial age when many girls lose interest in math and science,” Puricelli said.

The keynote speaker, Mary Haley, director and CEO of Sacramento Zoo, talked about the importance of having women in traditionally male-dominated fields and the individual benefits of choosing a career in such fields.

Haley received her bachelor’s degree in psychology and for a time was the director of Discovery Island, a zoological park designed by Walt Disney. She also served as chair of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums in 2004.

Participants had the opportunity to choose from 19 paired workshops that exposed them to STEM-related material. Each workshop was led by one or more professionals, many of whom are employed by Sac State.

“Our staff pairs each workshop with another workshop that is not directly related to that discipline in order to give the girls wider exposure to STEM related subject matter,” Puricelli said.

The workshop Bone Detectives, facilitated by anthropology professor Elizabeth Strasser, was designed to educate the girls on the basics of forensic science. Casts of human skeletal remains were used to provide participants with hands-on experience in determining the age and sex of the skeletons.

Bone detectives was paired with Fishing for the Future, a workshop run by education professor Hui-Ju Huang, which used games and hands-on activities to teach participants ways they can achieve a sustainable lifestyle.

“It appears that all that instructors here are females in the field of science,” said Roslin Scott, parent of eighth-grader Ricki. “It is good to show her professional women who are in the field.”

Lunch was divided into two time slots so while one group was eating in the Ballroom, the other group was attending a career demonstration fair in the Redwood Room.

The career demonstration fair included women from SMUD, AT&T, Society of Women Engineers, UC Davis’ Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering and Intel who answered questions and offered advice on careers in their respective fields.

“It is very affordable,” Scott said. “I feel it gives my daughter exposure to other girls with similar interests and she was able to make new friends with those interests, which is a good thing.”

Mike Suechting can be reached at [email protected].