Edmonds Community College hosted its seventh annual Expanding Your Horizons conference last week for young women interested in studying science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
The conference saw record attendance with nearly 500 students, grades eight through 12, from five school districts. Students had the option to attend interactive workshops led by women in STEM from Boeing Company, Amazon, Microsoft and the University of Washington biology department.
During a panel discussion, Edmonds Community College STEM students shared their experiences in the program and how they managed to balance a social life and the demanding schedule. Katey Queen, a biology and ecology major, said not having time for a social life is a common misconception about studying STEM. She said the key is building a good work-life balance in school that can be used later in your career.
“You can still have relations with your family and still go to the movies with your friends,” she said. “Those things aren’t going to go away, it’s just that balance that’s a great skill to have.”
Often, women in STEM programs are treated differently or underestimated by their male peers. It is not uncommon for men to outnumber women in the program, but computer science major Kelsey Perkins advised the young women attending to not let that intimidate them.
“You’ll have to prove that you’re just as good and just as capable,” she said. “You all have the capabilities if you have that passion.”
The conference featured keynote speaker Penelope Lora Ramirez, a senior design engineer from Boeing. Ramirez specializes in design analysis of air and space craft for both commercial and defense. As a child, Ramirez said she used to enjoy watching airplanes fly over the rooftops of her neighborhood. When she saw a Dassault Mirage 2000 fighter jet fly overhead, Ramirez said she was hooked.
“It had flown so low and so close to my house, I could feel it,” she said. “In that instant I fell in love with airplanes.”
Though Ramirez enjoyed math, she said she struggled in school, and had to study harder the higher she advanced. Through hard work, she came to love the subject more, she said. During her presentation, Ramirez handed out a single puzzle piece to members of the audience as a symbol of perseverance and problem solving.
“When you have a puzzle, you take that piece and find a spot to try to make it fit,” she said. “And when it doesn’t fit you turn it around and you try to make it fit in a different way.”
In the years since the Expanding Your Horizons conference has been offered at Edmonds Community College, more young women have shown an interest in STEM, said Shana Lipscomb, a college and career specialist at Edmonds-Woodway High School. Students have a more focused knowledge of what fields of study STEM has to offer instead of a general idea, she said.
“I think there’s so much exposure and this event helps,” she said.
For more information about STEM at Edmonds Community College visit the website here.
–Story and photos by Cody Sexton