While many kids spend Saturdays watching TV or playing with friends, about 165 girls gathered in Des Plaines to explore nanotechnology, robotics and DNA at a program that could lay the groundwork for their futures.
The third annual Chicagoland AAUW Tech Savvy Conference on Saturday at Oakton Community College offered such topics as the neuroscience of sleep, create your own app, and vertebrate paleobiology for girls in sixth through ninth grades.
The program was meant to encourage girls to explore science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, studies and careers and keep their interest going, said Antigone Sharris, coordinator for engineering technology at Triton College, and a co-chairwoman of Tech Savvy.
"It engages them and empowers them to see all the women who are STEM leaders," said Sharris. "We'd like to see the girls see themselves in those roles."
Participants paid $10 for the event, but funding also came from groups such as the American Association of University Women branches in Downers Grove, Glenview, Lombard and elsewhere, While AAUW stretches its roots back to the 1880s, Tech Savvy started more than 15 years ago to help encourage more students into the STEM careers.
"This is an environment that inspires them to think beyond their current environment and allows them to dream," said Marissa Butler of Soar Higher Consulting in Oak Park, a presenter at Tech Savvy.
Edie Pawlak, 11 of Downers Grove, and Sarah Matus, 11, of Naperville, both wanted to explore science for possible careers in the future and sat together in a nanotechnology session.
"I love science and more women need to be represented," said Pawlak.
"It's very important," said Matus. "It's the future."
Elizabeth Hinojosa, 12, of Schaumburg, said it was her first time at Tech Savvy and she wants to enter the paleobiology field and study DNA.
"Once I had a dog that died and decided I wanted to help stop cancer or other diseases and help animals," Hinojosa said.
Yosephine Lee, 11, of Rolling Meadows, hopes to one day become an engineer.
"I came because I wanted to to learn how people build things and what is their motivation," Lee said.