College of Science and Engineering


SCSU event aims to attract girls to engineering

Monday, March 28, 2011

Saturday, March 26th, marked the 21st Horizon conference hosted by the St. Cloud State’s Society of Women Engineers. Girls ranging from junior high to high school age participated in workshops, speakers, learning and, yes, lunch.


As a group of junior high school girls strolled into St. Cloud State University’s Garvey Commons for lunch, their eyes widened at the thought of what they could eat with a free meal pass and an hour to spare.


“You can get seconds?” one young woman asked with hushed surprise.


The girls were on campus as part of this year’s Horizon conference — an event geared toward young females interested in science and math — and while the food drew “oohs” and “aahs,” the event’s organizers hoped the day’s activities would encourage the girls to stick with the two fields throughout their schooling.


Saturday marked the 21st Horizon conference at St. Cloud State. The event was hosted by the school’s Society of Women Engineers. Girls ranging from junior high to high school age participated in workshops, speakers, learning and, yes, lunch.


“We want to encourage the girls to continue studying math and sciences instead of going into the other fields,” said Kay Thamyichai, an adviser to the Society of Women Engineers and one of the conference’s organizers.


The workshops provided the girls with hands-on activities in various fields, ranging from 3-D technology to robotics. University professors guided the girls during their activities.


Thamyichai and Ayushma Vaidya, president of the Society of Women Engineers at the school, said that helping develop a new class of young female engineers is very important in a field that’s traditionally populated by men.


“We really want them to keep holding on to it and pursue their interests so they can pursue their degrees and not lose their interest in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) field,” Vaidya said.


Steering young women into the field isn’t easy.


This year’s Horizon conference, which consists of young women from mostly around the St. Cloud area, had 26 participants. In previous years there were as many as 70, according to Thamyichai and Vaidya.


Vaidya said next year they may change the timing to boost participation.


“We decided that March might not be a good month because it’s right after the spring break ... next year we’re thinking of doing it a little earlier, maybe in February,” Vaidya said.


Thamyichai said while numbers were lower this year, it isn’t necessarily like that nationwide. A Minneapolis event similar to the Horizons conference regularly brought in more than 100 people when she volunteered there.


To help deal with lower numbers, the conference has expanded its parameters over the years to include high school-aged girls and girls who have previously participated.


“We are extending it to middle school and high school as well because some girls that participated (before) are back,” Vaidya said. “We have more advanced workshops added to the ones that we had last year ... so the students from the high school can participate and not have to take the (workshops) that are more focused on the junior high girls.”


While boosting numbers is always a looming issue, the girls that did participate Saturday seemed more than happy to have the chance to delve deeper into science and math.


“It just gives you an opportunity to explore different areas of the field and it gives you more of an idea of what the field is about,” said St. John's Prep sophomore Kassidy Bartels, who previous attended as an eighth-grader. “I just had so much fun last time I came, and I figured I’d try it out again.”

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