College of Science and Engineering
Girls dig in to tech at Horizons Conference
Sunday, March 23, 2014
When about 100 girls — at least 30 more than expected — showed up for the 24th annual Horizons Conference at St. Cloud State University, Syntyche Koumaglo, who helped organize the event, rose to the challenge.
Koumaglo is president of the Society of Women Engineers at St. Cloud State, host of Saturday’s event. Having more people than expected meant finding a way to provide more of everything the event had to offer. But considering statistics show women are underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, having too many eager participants was a good problem to have.
“We didn’t want to say no,” Koumaglo, said. “It’s good that we have more people.”
She added: “I’m glad they’re willing to learn. It’s cool that they’ve come here to have this experience.”
The event focused on helping girls get interested in science, engineering, technology and math. Girls ranging from junior high to high school participated in a variety of activities including building an engine from Legos, creating a video game and constructing a heart rate sensor.
“I’ve never done anything like this at all,” said 13-year-old Danielle Schultz, who attends Sauk Rapids-Rice Middle School.
Schultz said she was nervous coming into the day, but plenty of activities and the opportunity to meet new people quickly eased her fears.
Pomi Aschenaki, 16, attends St. John’s Preparatory School and said participating in the conference is a way to help her figure out what she wants to do with her future.
“I just wanted to see how it feels,” she said. “We have to pick by our junior year whatever you’re interested in. This shows you what’s going on in this field.”
The conference was sponsored by St. Cloud State Associate Dean for Multicultural Affairs and STEM Initiatives Carolyn Ruth A. Williams, the Central Minnesota Manufacturers Association, UTC Aerospace Systems and Cummins Inc.
Cummins designs, manufactures, distributes and services engines and related technologies. Saturday’s event was a homecoming for Jennifer Struffert Abon, a global parts return manager for the company, who grew up in Milaca and graduated from St. Cloud State in 2004.
“I grew up on a dairy farm in Central Minnesota. I didn’t know what opportunities were available to me. I know that I really enjoyed math and science,” Struffert Abon said. “There are so many opportunities for mentoring to occur here today. ... I just think it’s really important for us to get involved in that and help inspire and encourage those girls.”
With upward of 50 volunteers, attendees were able to work with people of various backgrounds and experience. Building those kinds of connections along with showcasing the fun side of STEM can be key in keeping girls in the field, said Melissa Hanzsek-Brill, a mathematics professor at St. Cloud State.
“This is the age that girls and boys start to get interested in what they are going to do with their life,” she said. “A lot of times in school there isn’t the opportunity to do something as fun and as creative because of the class sizes or the curriculum that needs to be met. So here it gives them the idea that these fields can be really creative and really interesting and that you can investigate a lot of different things.”
While building interest could bode well for the girls’ futures, Struffert Abon said it was exciting to witness so many young women willing to take advantage of the opportunities set up for them in the present — opportunities she never had.
“I had no idea that I was going to be an electrical engineer when I grew up. You could have asked me on the day of graduation and that wouldn’t have popped up on the radar screen,” she said. “I’m hoping to kind of help ignite that spark with these girls earlier so that they have that clear plan or path.