Conference celebrates 30 years of inspiring girls toward careers in STEM

SJEYH 2022 (Download Image)

LLNL Director Kim Budil served as the keynote speaker, inspiring more than 250 attendees at the 30th annual San Joaquin Expanding Your Horizons conference in Stockton.

The San Joaquin Expanding Your Horizons (SJEYH) conference celebrated its 30th anniversary with the theme "STEM: It's Like Magic, but Real," on Saturday, Nov. 5, bringing more than 250 girls (and some boys) to the University of the Pacific (UOP) campus in Stockton to learn more about science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Co-sponsored by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), Sandia National Laboratories/California and the UOP School of Engineering and Computer Science, SJEYH is an annual conference designed to spark girls' interest in STEM careers in a fun way with hands-on activities. Organizers were happy to return to an in-person event after two years in a virtual environment. Participants, spanning grades 6-12, come from across San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties in Stockton, Lodi, Manteca, Modesto and other rural communities to attend.

Lodi native and LLNL public information officer Carrie Martin kicked off the opening ceremony by welcoming attendees and thanking organizers and sponsors before introducing keynote speaker, LLNL Director Kim Budil. Budil is the 13th director of LLNL and the first woman director in the Lab’s 70-year history.

Budil shared with attendees the path she took and how she changed her mind on what career she wanted to pursue while in college. Along her journey, she learned that she was interested in a lot of things. “I grew up in Chicago and when I was young, I was 100 percent sure that I wanted to be a lawyer,” Budil said. “All through high school, that was my plan and even after I started college, I was advised by some attorneys to get a technical degree because it would allow me to pursue different types of law. I remembered that in high school, I really liked physics because in physics you only have to know a few concepts and you can build your understanding of the world around you from some very simple fundamental concepts, so I started taking physics classes.”

Once Budil started to delve into physics more deeply, she said that she was hooked and followed the path to become an experimental physicist.

“The most important message to you today is that you don't need to know what you want to do,” Budil said. “You don't even have to have a landing point at this time in your life. The greatest gift you have is to be interested in the world around you.

“Keep the following in mind as you go along on your journey,” she said. “Doors will open that you won't necessarily understand or feel confident about and paths that you are faced with may even seem a little scary. I really encourage you to approach all things in life with a spirit of adventure. I took many paths in my career that I didn't really understand how they would turn out, but through it all, I met many new people and took on new challenges, and it got me to where I am today. So, remember that anything is possible. Who knows, maybe one of you will be the director of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory one day.".

Each SJEYH participant attended three out of 15 hands-on STEM-based workshops, such as: Computer Repair and Networking, Chemistry Potions, Dive into Biology with Marine Mammals, Lego Robotics, Water Treatment in Action, Ubiquitous Electronics and many more.

At the closing ceremony, attendees were shown a slideshow of photos from the day and door prizes including gift cards, backpacks, RAFT kits, a ukulele kiwi crate and two light speaker kiwi crates. The grand prize winner received a Samsung Galaxy tablet.

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Vanessa Arroyo, Zoe Mears, Genesis Chavez, Teagan Swanson and Kiranjot Saroya (not pictured) received recognition for having attended the conference for all seven years.

Teagan Swanson, a senior at Sierra High School in Manteca and daughter of LLNL employee and SJEYH volunteer Kim Swanson, was one of five attendees who received recognition for having attended all seven years. Swanson said her first SJEYH was in 2016 and she came back year after year for the workshops and the opportunity to try new things. “It is something I looked forward to every year,” Swanson said. “Being able to try the different workshops like soldering, magic of STEM, solve a cybercrime and marine biology were some of my favorites over the years. I’ve also loved collecting the shirts and always anticipated the design. I wear them all the time.”

Genesis Chavez, Zoe Mears, Vanessa Arroyo and Kiranjot Saroya also received recognition for having attended the conference for all seven years.

Jeene Villanueva,a  computer scientist at LLNL, has served as SJEYH conference chair/co-chair since 2014. "It was a special year celebrating our 30th anniversary," Villanueva said. "Being able to return in person was the icing on the cake. We are so lucky to have so many volunteers that return year after year: amazing presenters who run inspiring workshops, chaperones who keep the kids safe and a dedicated SJEYH board core committee who is planning for several months behind the scenes. It is a rewarding experience to see the excitement on the faces of the attendees during the workshops and activities at SJEYH. It is what drives us to continue.”

The annual conference is coordinated by a core committee of volunteers with the help of more than 100 additional volunteers who work at LLNL and Sandia/California and the University of the Pacific, in addition to various members of the community. More than 55 LLNL employees were involved in SJEYH.

The SJEYH board is comprised of chair Villanueva along with Martha Campiotti, Amril D’Souza, Nancy Elium, Cary Gellner, Carolyn Hall, Sharon Langman, Martin, Alexander Murray, Alicia Short and Teri York.

Special guests attending the event included LLNL Director Kim Budil; Ashley Bahney, acting chief of staff at LLNL; Joanna Albala, Science Education Program manager, LLNL; Donna Mailhot, Global Security deputy principal associate director, LLNL; Sarah Allendorf, director of Chemistry, Combustion, and Materials Science, Sandia/California; Louise Stark, professor emeritus, UOP and Elizabeth Orwin, dean School of Engineering and Computer Science, UOP.

For more information, see the SJEYH website.

See the complete photo gallery of the event on the SJEYH website.