Girls explore STEM careers at conference

eyh (Download Image) “She Believed She Could So She Did STEM,” was the theme for the recent San Joaquin Expanding Your Horizons Conference, held at the University of the Pacific.

"She Believed She Could So She Did STEM," was the theme for the 24th annual San Joaquin Expanding Your Horizons (SJEYH) conference, where nearly 500 young women flocked to the University of the Pacific campus in Stockton, excited to learn more about science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

The conference, which is co-sponsored by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), Sandia National Laboratories and the University of the Pacific School of Engineering and Computer Science, sparks girls' interest in STEM careers in a fun environment. Participants, spanning grades 6-12, came from across San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties, including Stockton, Lodi, Manteca, Modesto and other rural communities, to attend the daylong event.

Monique Warren, a Stockton native and environmental engineer at LLNL, served as the keynote speaker, kicking off the event with an enthusiastic and inspirational talk exploring the SJEYH theme.

As a past attendee, Warren was delighted to come full circle as the keynote speaker and credited SJEYH and programs like it for helping her get to where she is today. "When I first heard the theme for this year’s conference, I thought to myself, ‘Wow, what a great idea and what a great thing to teach,’" said Warren. "But the more I thought about this theme, the more I realized that wasn’t how my story began."

Warren didn’t always have a clear picture of what she wanted to do in life. "There have been many people in my life who have influenced, taught and helped to shape who I am for the better," said Warren. "However, there are four special people in particular, that without them, I may not have become an environmental engineer. These four people are a huge part of the reason that I believed 'I could.'"

Warren shared that her primary inspiration came from her parents, along with mentors Andrea Hodge, an LLNL scientist, and Darin Gray, her teacher when she attended the USC Discover Engineering program.

"My dad, a Laboratory employee, opened my eyes to the possibility of science through his determination to connect me with a mentor," said Warren. Through his network at LLNL, he introduced me to Andrea, who shared with me first-hand what her job entailed. Darin Gray showed me that engineers solve real world problems and by introducing fun hands-on projects, he gave me a feel for what engineering was like. Finally, it was my mom who encouraged me to the point where I believed I could do it."

"Our goal today is to provide you with the opportunity to see the endless possibilities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics and to remind you that there is so much you can be and do," said Warren. "If you want to live life like you intend to win, you need to put in the 'EFFORT' (enthusiasm, faith, flexibility, originality, rise [to the challenge] and teachable)."

Each participant attended three out of 24 hands-on workshops that were offered, including titles such as: Fun With Science, Bristle Bots, DNA Cheek Cell Extraction Experiment, Cyber Defense, Ubiquitous Electronics, Water Treatment in Action, Engineer a Microscope, Computer Repair and Networking, Chemistry Potions and many more.

After lunch and the final workshop, event organizers showed a slideshow of photos from the day and distributed raffle prizes to participants, including a laptop (grand prize). Many of those present had attended SJEYH before. Sierra Carpenter (Millenium High School), Diana Aguilera (Stockton Early College Academy), Emma Navarra and Hanna Navarra (both from Connecting Waters Charter School) received recognition for having attended the conference for all seven years.

Jeene Villanueva, a computer scientist at LLNL, served as SJEYH conference chair for the second year in a row. "It is exciting to see the impact this conference has on students," she said. "Past attendees are now professional women scientists and come back as volunteers to run workshops and chaperone groups. We feel the excitement continue not only in new attendees, but in workshop presenters and volunteers as well."

The annual conference is coordinated by a core committee of volunteers with the help of 200 additional volunteers who work at LLNL, Sandia National Laboratory and the University of the Pacific, along with other members of the community. More than 40 LLNL employees were involved in making SJEYH a successful event.

"This conference runs smoothly due to the hard work of my awesome team that includes Deb Burdick, Martha Campiotti, Marleen Emig, Cary Gellner, Carolyn Hall, Joan Houston, Sharon Langman, Carrie Martin, Kathleen Shoga, Lindsey Whitehurst, Pearline Williams and Teri York," said Villanueva. "I am always impressed by their selfless dedication to ensuring a successful event each year."

Special guests in attendance included: Jenny Kenoyer, City of Modesto council member; Maria Mendez, Stockton Unified School District Board of Education; Chiakis Ornelas, representing Congressman Jerry McNerney, 9th District Office; and Steven Howell, dean of the School of Engineering and Computer Science at the University of the Pacific.

Various sponsors that contributed giveaways, services and donations included the American Association of University Women (AAUW); Junior League of San Joaquin County; Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Women's Association; Matthew Simpson (LLNL); NASCO, Modesto; Sandia Women's Connection; SaveMart S.H.A.R.E.S. Program; Sandia/Lockheed Martin Foundation Gifts and Grants; Simplot J R Company, Lathrop; Society of Women Engineers/UOP; Soroptimist International, Manteca, Tracy; Stockton AAUW and Watermark.

For more information, see the SJEYH website.

To view more photos of the event, see the San Joaquin EYH 2016 photo gallery.