By Ellen Finn,
HUB Staff Writer–
Girls and their parents file into a room off of the Yolo County Library building while they are greeted by five scientists and engineers. The lights in the meeting room occasionally buzz and flicker, but it is clear that the light in each girl that enters is burning strong with an exuberant and intellectual eagerness.
“We want to discuss our career experiences and stories, give inspiration and talk about all of the great opportunities,” aquatic ecologist and moderator Ramona Swenson said.
These families are strolling into a panel discussion on careers for girls in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM. Members of the American Association of University Women invited girls grades seven through 12 to join them to explore the many possible careers in STEM and to learn about the various avenues for reaching their goals.
“We wanted to provide for girls a push if they have an inkling that they want to go into STEM,” Swenson said.
The panelists introduced themselves as professionals in biotechnology, animal genetics, computer programming, and more. Some professionals told stories of how they became interested in their field.
“In the 5th grade I saw an ad on television that said […] that Japan and Russia have lots of engineers and are getting ahead of the U.S.,” said Alinia Asmundson, a technical program manager at Intel Corporation. “I said, ‘sign me up!’ and I’ve been signing up for science programs ever since.”
Eight girls and their parents listened intently to the panelists, occasionally asking questions about how to get a leg up in their field.
“As you can see, we all have a mission,” Swenson said, gesturing enthusiastically toward her young audience members. “Whether it’s feeding the world or reducing climate change or making sure our salmon are healthy, we are really passionate about our careers.”
Some of the younger girls who attended the panel plan to be a part of this summer’s Tech Trek, a STEM camp run through UC Davis and the American Association of University Women. The girls wanted to catch a glimpse of what the camp might entail as well as get inspired for possible career goals.
“I came because I wanted to become more involved in science in this community, especially for girls,” said Megan Yamoah, a ninth grader at Holmes who will be an engineering counselor at Tech Trek this summer.
Another junior high student, seventh grader Audrey Borba looks forward to the STEM-related opportunities Davis will bring her.
“I’m really excited for the Tech Trek this summer, and wanted to hear science women speak,” Borba said.
Each scientist gave her own perspective on what it is like to be a woman in a male-dominated field, and asked the students in the audience to share their own science stories. For Davis High senior McKenzie Barlow, science sparked her interest because of a fantastic junior high teacher.
“My science teacher at Harper, Mr. McKim, really started getting me interested in Biology […] when I took AP Biology in my junior year, I loved it even more,” Barlow said. Barlow will be attending Cal Poly to study Bioengineering in the fall.
The panelists told the audience that the key to success in STEM fields is to make themselves unique and valuable, and all of the scientists agreed on the importance of taking initiative. One scientist added that it is especially important for women to work in STEM because, in general, they are fantastic communicators and can often help create smooth team dynamics.
“Yes, there is still sexual discrimination in these careers. We need to work on not buying or accepting it, and when you do your job well and encourage other women to work hard, you can lift that bias,” said Rhonda Reed, an employee of the National Marine Fisheries Service.