Friday, March 13, 2009

2009 Expanding Your Horizons conference helps girls explore careers in math, science and technology

By Courtney Westlake

Kelly Cochran, flight director for the Challenger Learning Center in Bloomington, was so thrilled with her experience while attending the Expanding Your Horizons conference when she was young that she decided to come back and teach a program during the 2009 conference.

"I love what I do, and I'm so pleased to be able to share it with other people," she said. "I've had a lot of people in my lifetime that have pushed me and helped me grow, and I like to share those tools and toys I've gained from other people. It's fun for me to be able to return and be one of those presenters who was so cool when I was a student."

Cochran was one of 45 professional women in fields of math, science or technology who led a program during the 22nd annual Expanding Your Horizons in Math, Science and Technology on Saturday, March 14, at UIS to give girls in 6th, 7th and 8th grades the opportunity to learn about various topics and careers within math, technology and science.

Participants chose to attend three interactive and hands-on workshops from more than 20 offered. The workshops focused on topics such as computer animation, bone engineering, photography, crime investigation, architecture, astronomy and much more.

Many cutting-edge careers of the future will involve science, math and technology and will be wide open to well-prepared young women. The workshops for the girls allowed participants to interact with successful local women who are scientists, physicians, engineers, architects and professionals in many other careers traditionally held by men.

Hundreds of local junior high school girls attended the conference, along with their parents who were able to attend workshops about planning for college and helping teens cope with stress.

"Twenty-two years ago, Expanding Your Horizons began on this campus with 50 girls participating; now we have 350 present today," said Sue Garland, co-president of the American Association of University Women- Springfield branch. The AAUW presents the conference each year, and it is co-sponsored by UIS and the Mental Health Centers of Central Illinois.

"This is an introduction to some of the many career possibilities that will be open to you," Garland told the participants. "There are 45 professional women here to share their knowledge and experience with you. Each has worked hard and overcome obstacles to get to their career of choice. They have helped open doors for you, the women of the future."

Carolyn Ringeisen, wife of UIS Chancellor Richard Ringeisen, reminded the attendees that the most important thing they can do in life is to get an education.

"Women are desperately needed in the sciences," she said. "I'm always impressed at this event by the areas of sciences represented, so I hope you will find something that sparks your interest."

Presenters used a variety of materials and projects to give attendees an idea about what they do on a day-to-day basis in their careers in math, science and technology. Dr. Rachel Boyce, an equine veterinarian with O'Keefe Equine Health Service, even brought a furry, four-legged friend to campus.

"Becoming a vet is certainly one choice in order to spend your career with horses if you have slant toward biology," Boyce told the young girls in her workshop. "There are about 7 million horses in the U.S., and they all need veterinary care. So if it's something you're interested in, it's extremely rewarding, and I enjoy it very much."

Participants in Boyce's program, called "Horsin' Around," were able to listen to a horse's heartbeat, which beats at about half the rate as a human heart, she said, as well as feed him treats and brush him.

During Cochran's workshop, called "Building Strong Structures for Space - And Earth Too!", participants learned how to create modular polyhedrons as if they were building a structure for the moon. She used paper, clay and popsicle sticks for her projects to create the moon structures.

"And then of course, one thing you have to contend with on the moon is moonquakes, so we actually shake their structures to see what would happen to the structure in that situation," she said with a smile.

To view video, photo and written coverage from the 2008 conference, go here.

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