7th graders embrace STEM at Women in Science Conference

Youth in Science Rapid City aims to get more women involved in STEM careers

The Women in Science Conference hosted by Youth in Science Rapid City, took place yesterday on the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology Campus, aiming to expose more women to STEM careers.

About 840 7th grade girls from 21 local schools, attended the conference to experience different science, technology, engineering, and math careers.

The number of women in STEM careers is growing but still low. Fields range from as high as 48 percent representation in Life Sciences and as low as 15 percent in engineering fields.

Kelly Whitaker, one of the co-founders of the Women in Science Conference, was the keynote speaker, tackling subjects including school, bullying, tough life events, and suicide. Her underlying message — letting the girls know they are loved and that they matter.

“They are so important and they are loved and cared for,” said Whitaker. “Their life matters.”

Whitaker began programming in the 10th grade and it led her into years of information technology jobs. Beginning in the Air Force, she went on to work in Rapid City at Lynn, Jackson, Shultz, and LeBrunn as an IT consultant. After that, Whitaker worked at Lockheed Martin, SCI Manufacturing, and National American University before landing at the National Weather Service as an IT officer.

“It just warms my heart to see the impact that we’re having in our community here,” said Whitaker. “I don’t think people realize just how important it is for people not only for Rapid City but for the country as a whole. We need these young people in STEM fields for our city and our country to move forward.”

Also at the conference, more than 200 volunteers manned exhibits or spoke in mini-sessions that led a class through a hands on activity.

“Each speaker will share their path to their career, a lot about what their job is and then do a hands on activity with the girls,” said Amy DiRienzo, president of Youth in Science Rapid City. “In our exhibit hall, we have lots of STEM careers represented and the girls are free to explore.”

As the only female broadcast meteorologist in Rapid City, NewsCenter1’s Megan Murat hosted one of those mini-sessions, telling the girls more about broadcast and other meteorology fields. Megan also gave the girls different weather scenarios that she’s covered and helped them to interpret the information. Then, they gave their own weather presentations based on those scenarios.

Putting together the conference takes months of preparation and according to DiRienzo, about $20,000 to fund. Grants and local sponsors helped fund this year’s conference.

Categories: Local News