Crystal Lake Dist. 155's STEM conference for girls only
Jenny Morris had a "light bulb" moment teaching an Advanced Placement physics class at Prairie Ridge High School last year.
"I had 16 boys and zero girls," she said.
It prompted Morris to launch Crystal Lake High School District 155's first GEMS (Girls in Engineering, Math, and Science) Conference to be held Saturday.
Sixth- through eighth-graders from feeder schools in Cary, Crystal Lake, Fox River Grove, Prairie Grove, and a portion of Lake in the Hills are invited to attend the free conference and explore careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
Nationwide, women represent roughly 25 percent of the workforce in STEM jobs, when they make up about 55 percent of the population, said Morris, who did her master's thesis on the disproportionate number of women in STEM fields.
"Women just drop out like a leaky pipeline," she said. "Middle school definitely is the critical age for (girls losing interest). This year, it was one of my personal goals to raise the enrollment and we have nine women enrolled in calculus-based AP physics."
The conference's goal is increasing the enrollment of girls in District 155's STEM classes and empowering them to pursue careers stereotypically considered as male.
"It's important for girls to see that they can do (these jobs), as well as build that interest, confidence and self-esteem," Morris said. "On the first day of class, I have my students draw a scientist. Ninety percent of them always draw a male, even the women."
Morris herself defies that stereotype, which is what she hopes prospective students will discover at the conference.
District 155 is partnering with local businesses and community members to provide hands-on activities in architecture, computer science, environmental science, forensics, microbiology related to infectious diseases, polymers and robotics.
The event includes a parent/child STEM challenge, four interactive group STEM sessions, and a career expo where girls can meet one-on-one with women professionals in various fields.
"We have 30 different vendors here for (the expo)," said Kathy Gilbert, Prairie Ridge's STEM division leader.
Conference registration has filled up with 125 girls signed up and a waiting list of about 100 people.
"We are actually overwhelmed with the interest," Gilbert said. "I wish we were able to accommodate everybody who wanted to be here. We do plan to make it an annual event."
The conference and career expo run 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Prairie Ridge High School, 6000 Dvorak Drive, Crystal Lake.