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UK expands STEM horizons for middle school girls

A girl stands in front of a blackboard filled with math equations.
A girl stands in front of a blackboard filled with math equations.

PHOTO: Thinkstock.com
LEXINGTON, Ky., -

Women continue to be under represented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, making up only 24 percent of the STEM workforce according to a study from the U.S. Department of Commerce.  The study also found that women hold a disproportionately low share of STEM undergraduate degrees, particularly in engineering. A University of Kentucky workshop for middle school girls, Expanding Your Horizons, is designed to encourage young women to consider careers in these fields.

“UK is facing a lot of the same challenges as many other institutions, in that there’s poor retention of female undergraduates in a lot of science, engineering and math majors,” said Ellen Crocker, a post-doctoral scholar in the Department of Forestry in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment who is one of the event coordinators. “I think there are a lot of potential reasons for that. Many times, girls lack role models in those fields, so they don’t see women in a variety of different STEM careers. Lacking those role models, maybe they don’t realize the options that exist.”

Expanding Your Horizons is planning to address that problem by introducing the young students to women who are either currently pursuing a STEM degree or are working in one of the fields.

“They’ll be covering everything from physics to trees to chemistry to working with bacteria,” Crocker said.

Mary Arthur, UK professor of forest ecology, is mentoring UK students who will focus on trees and their ecological impact in one of the 14 workshop groups. Carmen Agouridis, extension associate professor of bioenvironmental engineering in the Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, is mentoring a group that will focus on teaching the middle school students about water pollution and treatment. They will design a hands-on activity that combines chemistry and engineering to construct a lab-scale water treatment plant.

“I think STEM fields offer a wealth of opportunities to make a positive impact in the lives of others,” Agouridis said. “Our society faces many tough challenges. To find solutions, we need to utilize all of our brightest minds, regardless of gender, race or ethnicity. I want girls and women, when they visualize scientists and engineers, to see themselves in those positions.”

There is room for 150 students in the workshop. The registration fee is $20 a student, but there are scholarships available, as well as funds to cover transportation to and from the program. A grant from the National Science Foundation is helping with program costs.

There will also be a concurrent session for parents at no extra cost.

“Any parent, guardian, or teacher who wants to come learn about the issues facing their daughters or students as they go forward in their science education are welcome to attend,” Crocker said. “We’ll cover topics such as how to prepare your daughters for college. How do you pay for college? What does college look like nowadays, from the small liberal arts schools to large research institutions like UK? What options are out there?”

Program coordinators are seeking UK student and postdoctoral volunteers to assist with the workshop, which will be held Saturday, April 29 in the Jacobs Science Building on the UK campus. Those who are interested should contact Crocker at e.crocker@uky.eduor Susan Odom at susan.odom@uky.edu.

Middle-school students and their parents who wish to register for Expanding Your Horizons can do so online at www.expandingyourhorizons.org/conferences/UKLex/page2.php?id=1279.

Read more on UKNow.

Contact: 

Ellen Crocker; 859-257-3040

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