Females of the future

Hundreds expected to attend annual #girlSTEM conference, which connects local girls to professional women in STEM fields

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

Girl power: More than 800 girls attended last year’s #girlSTEM conference. The annual event aims to show young women across Bucks County that careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are possible. PHOTO: United Way of Bucks County

Last year, more than 800 young women from across Bucks County recognized their potential to be the next great engineer, biologist or web designer. This was #girlSTEM, an annual conference where successful women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields share their journeys with girls in grades six to 10 who aspire to follow in their footsteps.

On May 24, Delaware Valley University, in conjunction with United Way of Bucks County and the Bucks County Intermediate Unit, will once again host this ever-growing, free event. According to United Way CEO Marissa Christie, the key goal of #girlSTEM is to show young women that pursuing one of these career paths is a viable option for them.

“The reality is that women are still significantly underrepresented in STEM fields,” Christie said. “We try to catch them at that critical age and show them great, real-world examples of professional, successful women.”

Christie went on to explain the range of grades six through 10 was chosen for a reason. It’s during these years that students begin developing more sophisticated interests and have ample time to take action. The younger ones can join a science-based club while high schoolers can sign up for STEM electives and start thinking about which college major will lead to that dream career.

At #girlSTEM, attendees have the opportunity to network with and learn from women who were once in their young, uncertain shoes. Organized very much like a professional conference, 45-minute sessions take place throughout the day, with each girl selecting three. While some choose sessions in completely different areas to get a taste of everything, others narrow their focus, selecting three directly related to one interest.

The sessions are led by volunteer presenters, and the Intermediate Unit is currently accepting online applications. Volunteers must be women who work in STEM and have a desire to share their knowledge and expertise with the next generation of professionals. According to Christie, the presentations should be as interactive and hands-on as possible, and those wishing to volunteer for more than one are welcome to do so.

At least 20 to 25 presenters per session are needed, and at least 45 to 50 for the entire day. All presenter information must be confirmed no later than Monday, April 2, and session proposals will be reviewed on an ongoing basis.

To help the conference run as smoothly as possible, the Intermediate Unit’s plan is to have girls pre-register for sessions through their schools. Christie explained every Bucks County school, including public and private, will soon receive an allocated number of spots they can fill at #girlSTEM. It’s then up to principals, counselors and teachers to determine which girls would benefit the most. Christie stressed individual registration isn’t accepted — students must go through their schools.

As final preparations take place, Christie is already anticipating a repeat of last year’s success. In 2017, more than 800 girls representing every community in Bucks County attended the conference. After the event, attendees were asked to take a brief survey on their experience, which brought back stunning results. Thanks to #girlSTEM, 95 percent of girls felt motivated to do well in school, 96 percent felt engaged in their own learning and 93 percent said the conference helped them plan ahead, make career choices and feel optimistic about their future.

Women interested in volunteering as presenters can submit proposals at bit.ly/girlSTEM2018 by April 2. Questions about presenting can be directed to Dr. Lindsey Sides at lsides@bucksiu.org.

Sponsors are still needed as well by Friday, March 2. Sponsorship opportunities are available for the conference as a whole or individual attendees. For information, visit uwbucks.org/girlstem/ or contact Katie Matarazzo at katiem@uwbucks.org or 215–949–1660, ext. 101. ••

If you go..

#girlSTEM will take place on May 24 at Delaware Valley University, 700 E. Butler Ave. in Doylestown, for girls in grades six to 10. The event is free and lunch is provided. The Bucks County Intermediate Unit will notify schools when registration is open.

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com