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Sophia Rubenzer, a first-grader at Houlton Elementary, and mother Kimberly visited Chippewa Valley Technical College's booth and spoke with instructor Kurt Carlson about experiments associated with mechanical engineering and nanoscience technologies. (Submitted photo)

Girls hear about careers in science, technology, engineering and manufacturing

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news River Falls, 54022
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

With close to 200 girls turning out, this year’s Women in STEM event, held at Hudson Middle School last week, drew twice as many interested students as last year.

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More than 30 exhibitors participated including many local businesses and manufacturers as well as some from the Twin Cities along with post-secondary schools, all talking with interested young women and their parents about the promising career opportunities in the fields of science, technology, engineering and manufacturing.

The event, which is organized by technical education teacher Jodie Bray of Hudson Middle School with assistance from Hudson School District school to work coordinator Melisa Hansen, is designed to expose female students to career options in STEM fields and to start thinking about their futures now. The event drew students from kindergarten through high school from Hudson and surrounding communities.

Bray, who is one of only three female technical education teachers in the state, said the goal of the event is to get “girls to feel comfortable thinking about all kinds of careers.”

Among the female exhibitors were a bike manufacturer and a company that makes baseball and softball bats. “These are things girls use and enjoy doing and it is good to see that women also make these things and that it could be them, designing and making these things,” said Bray.

Bray said she has always been interested in the technical and mechanical side of things. She was a diesel mechanic while in the military and knew she wanted to stay in that side of education.

She said she believes girls are already thinking beyond traditional female careers but thinks the engineering program, Project Lead the Way, that is now being conducted throughout the Hudson School District, as well as other opportunities, are drawing more students in all the time. In addition to events like Women in STEM which Bray hopes to expand regionally to involve more schools and more students, the district will be conducting a summer camp to explore engineering and technical education and careers.

Bray says parents remain the strongest influence on their daughters when it comes to helping them explore their options. She notes that the trend is changing, with mothers being the source of help with homework and career guidance as much as fathers. “When your daughter talks about something she would like to do or to try, it is about instilling them with the confidence to try.“

Bray said that as a practical matter, careers in STEM hold the most promise for jobs and good wages and include the widest variety of job opportunities with both short-term and long-term post-secondary training. And no matter what the job, the ability to think critically and problem-solve are the most important assets regardless of a person’s gender.

Two sisters from River Falls, Ren Juza, 10, and her sister Piper, 11, attended the event with their father Mike. Both sisters enjoy math and science classes and are interested in environmental science. Neither thinks being girls will have anything to do with their career choices and were excited to visit as many exhibitors as they could. On the ride over, their dad told them what it was like when he was in school when boys took shop classes and girls took home economics with little or no crossover. It was hard for the girls to believe.

Angela Popenhagen, an engineer with Stevens Engineers of Hudson, was an exhibitor and was anxious for her daughter Courtney to arrive at the event. She loves the idea of very young girls being exposed to STEM education and opportunities.

She didn’t consider engineering at all before entering college, thinking she may want to teach.

“I don’t think that when I was in eighth grade that teachers really even knew much about engineering. That’s what I love about events like this. You can show them that there are so many things they can do. If you love hockey and skating, you can build ice arenas or design ball fields or build roads. The possibilities are unlimited no matter who you are.”

Hudson Middle School Principal Dan Koch called the turnout for the second Women in STEM event outstanding and that he hopes it will grow beyond the Hudson School District. He said sixth- and seventh-graders are being exposed to STEM classes and that more and more eighth-graders are choosing STEM electives.

“The STEM program is reaching all of our students and that means more and more of them are learning about the variety of opportunities that are out there for them.”

For more information about Women in STEM and the district’s STEM Academy for Hudson High School freshmen, contact Hansen at hansenma@hudson.k12.wi.us or Bray at brayjf@hudson.k12.wi.us.

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