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Preparing our future STEM leaders

In its inaugural year, the Future Women of STEM Conference was held at Fulton-Montgomery Community College.

On May 23, over 150 middle school girls from 12 local school districts participated in their choice of three (of 12) hands-on workshops designed to inspire and encourage these young women to discover the fun and relevance of STEM. Beyond the interactive workshops, the event included breakfast and lunch, a keynote speaker, and a free T-shirt. 

Research highlights the fact that middle school is the time when girls are most likely to become disinterested in STEM subjects because they don’t think they fit what society deems the typical STEM student. The goal of FM’s Future Women of STEM Conference is to help combat the stereotypes that keep girls from pursuing careers in STEM and motivate our community’s young women to change the norm, and lead the way. The majority of workshops were led by current women of STEM, FM faculty, who provided the girls an opportunity to interact with role models who are practicing in STEM fields. By working with these women in STEM, the hope was that the students would be able to envision themselves as capable of achieving similar roles and, maybe one day, being the ones to share their own influential stories.

These connections were further developed by the collaboration with the co-sponsor of the event; the Amsterdam High School Science and Technology Entry Program (STEP), a NYSED funded grant housed through FM. STEP students also participated in the conference as part of their day of service for their program, of which the aim is to promote STEM pathways to younger peers in their communities.

The female STEP students helped with the coordination of the event and were present at each workshop, helping presenters with their activities, assisting the middle school students with the daily schedule and finding their way to workshops that were held in various buildings on campus. STEP students also took the opportunity to talk to the middle school girls during breakfast and lunch about their experience in STEP and their enthusiasm for the STEM related career paths that they hope to one day pursue.

Besides providing a great experience for our local students, there was a larger motive as well. “Women remain underrepresented in the science and engineering workforce, although to a lesser degree than in the past, with the greatest disparities occurring in engineering, computer science, and the physical sciences” (NSF, Science and Engineering Indicators, 2016).

Additionally, STEM fields also are some of the fastest growing careers with trends only showing increases in the decades to come. Here at FM, we want our community and our young people to be more than prepared to tackle and meet the needs of our ever-changing world. This effort starts young. It is why conferences like this are critical for our young women to become empowered and to know that FM has the tools and experiences necessary to help them on their journey to becoming successful STEM leaders.

Next year’s conference is planned for May. For more details about the event, becoming a workshop presenter, or the STEM opportunities offered at FM contact, Laurie Lazinski at Laurie.Lazinski@fmcc.edu or Lucas Prime at Lucas.Prime@fmcc.edu.

 

Laurie Lazinski is an assistant professor of chemistry and Lucas Prime is project director – liberty partnership program.