Montana Middle-School Girls to Attend STEM Career Workshops at UM

March 26, 2014

MISSOULA – More than 100 western Montana middle-school girls will gather on the University of Montana campus on Saturday, April 19, for the inaugural UM Expanding Your Horizons Conference. The full day of science, technology, engineering and math – or STEM –career workshops, organized by the UM Phyllis J. Washington College of Education and Human Sciences, will feature 19 workshops hosted by female STEM professionals from UM, as well as local STEM businesses and organizations.

The EYH Network, based in Oakland, Calif., provides a framework and assistance for conferences in 31 states and in Europe and Asia. The UM EYH Conference is one of three hosted in Montana. STEM role models and hands-on activities are designed to motivate girls to become innovative and creative thinkers ready to meet 21st century challenges. 

Coralynn Revis, environmental engineer with HDR, Inc., will present a workshop titled “From Your House to the River,” which will explore the biology, chemistry and hydraulics used to treat wastewater before it goes to the river. Girls will learn how to design their own water filter and discover how both math and science are applied to civil engineering. Revis recalls attending an EYH workshop hosted at Missoula’s Hellgate High School when she was in middle school.

 “I was already interested in math and science, but that workshop played a big part in inspiring me to pursue work in the engineering field,” Revis said. “When I found out they were hosting EYH at UM, I jumped at the opportunity.”

Girls will use each of their 100 billion nerve cells when they dissect sheep brains with UM neuroscience graduate student Genevieve Lind. Kaitlin Moe, forensic scientist with the Montana Department of Justice, will teach girls how to be latent fingerprint examiners as they identify suspects in a mock crime scene. Sandra Mwakwari and Juhienah Khalef, chemists with Hamilton-based GlaxoSmithKline, will show girls how scientists use simple materials to improve people’s daily lives during “Jingle Gels: Exploring the Properties of Polymer.”

Helium balloons will be used to simulate space flight during “Mission to Mars,” presented by Jennifer Fowler, education specialist with the Montana Space Grant Consortium, a NASA higher-education program. Fowler works with the BOREALIS (Balloon Outreach, Research, Exploration and Landscape Imaging System,) a statewide program that offers middle school students various curricula to aid them in conceiving and designing payloads that are flown up to 100,000 feet. BOREALIS has two complete ballooning programs at Montana State University and UM. Fowler’s work with middle school students led her to Holly Truitt, director of spectrUM Discovery Area.

 “Holly and I, along with other community members, really saw a need for more programs in the Missoula area for young girls interested in science,” Fowler said. “NASA is particularly interested in bringing more women into the science field.”

Lisa Blank, UM curriculum and instruction professor, is thrilled that women from the community have stepped forward to act as professional role models for girls attending the conference.

“We know from research that for girls to consider a STEM major or career pathway, they need to become aware of opportunities beyond their social-learning experiences, recognize multiple STEM pathways and be able to envision themselves as a STEM professional,” Blank said. “Without female STEM role models, it’s hard for female students to ever see themselves as a STEM professional. That’s what makes the community of STEM professionals the heart and soul of this endeavor. We couldn’t do this without their generous donation of time and expertise.”

Additionally, UM student-teacher candidates will act as workshop moderators and group guides.   

The April 19 EYH Conference is sponsored by SHAPE P-20, the Dennis & Phyllis Washington Foundation, UM Phyllis J. Washington College of Education and Human Sciences, Big Sky Brain Project, Montana Institute on Ecosystems, Missoula County Public Schools, American Association of University Women, spectrUM, Western Montana Area Health Education Center, Montana Space Grant Consortium, the Carol Griffith Williams Award Fund and UM.

For more information about the EYH Conference, or to enroll in the April 19 program, visit http://www.expandingyourhorizons.org/conferences/Missoula/ or call Blank at 406-243-5304.

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Contact: Lisa Blank, UM curriculum and instruction professor, 406-243-5304, lisa.blank@umontana.edu.