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Iowa State Conference Breaks Barriers for Girls in STEM

AMES, Iowa  --  We hear a lot about the push to get more girls in Iowa involved in STEM-related classes and eventually into the careers of science, technology and engineering, and math.

One Iowa State University conference has been doing this for years.

The Women in Science and Engineering at Iowa State University have hosted the conference titled the Road Less Traveled for more than 30 years.

Four times a year girls come from all over the state of Iowa. Around 350 girls come to each conference there have been more than 67,000 girls at the conference since the program first began in 1986.

“We have seen a lot of progression, one in the numbers, and just awareness of girls believing now that they can be engineers, that they can be computer scientists, they’re really seeing themselves in those roles more than we have ever seen before,” Events and Operations Coordinator for the Women in Science and Engineering, Sarah DuBois said.

At the conference girls learn from professionals in STEM fields and undergraduates in STEM majors. “So they’re really getting those role models and so they’re seeing what it’s like to look like an engineer now-a-days, to look at computer science now-a-days,” DuBois said.

One Iowa State senior in Biological Systems Engineering and Global Resources Systems, Rachael Barnes said she attended this conference as an 8th grader and it really sparked her interest in engineering.

“I remember thinking about all these aspects of STEM that I had never considered before. I had never thought ‘oh an engineer planned that’ or ‘oh different STEM majors are doing those activities in their everyday life’ and so it started just making big connections about how you can use a STEM degree to really improve and change the world,” Barnes said.

Throughout the day students will participate in hands-on activities from county conservation to bridge building competitions.

DuBois said these activities help level the playing field by making girls aware of the opportunities STEM gives them.

“I think diversity in STEM is really important. There’s a lot of studies that show that the more diverse a team is the better problem solvers they are. So we need boys and girls to believe that they can be anything and especially for girls to believe that they can be the ones to make changes in this world,” DuBois said.

Barnes said she sees how conferences like this help balance the gender representation in classes but there is still a long way to go.

“I think there is still a lot of improvement to make about how women are treated in the classroom and that goes outside of just gender, it’s within a lot of different identities that I think as an institution and as the U.S. we have a lot of improvement to make to make sure students feel welcomed. Conferences like this are really helping young women really overcome some of those barriers starting at a young age which is really important,” Barnes said.

The registration for the April 5th and 12th conferences is closed but there is an opportunity for current high school sophomores and juniors to attend a week-long STEM camp this July at Iowa State University. Registration for that camp ends on May 1st.