On April 20th, the Riverside County of Education held a groundbreaking event for the local community. Called “Engaging Girls in STEM,” this gathering brought together the Riverside community to discuss the vital need to break barriers and encourage young girls to get interested in STEM.
The event opened up with a panel, which included noteworthy leaders such as UCR’s own Sharon Walker (BCOE Interim Dean and Representative of Million Women Mentors), Alisha Wilkins from the California Commission on the Status of Women and Girls, Lea Deesing as Chief Innovation Officer from the City or Riverside, Sheilah Neff as a civil engineer for the California Department of Transportation, and Lyzandra Ortega as a 6th-grade student from Val Verde Elementary. The diversity of the panel, from women to engineers to leaders, offered a nuanced perspective on the current status and efforts of engaging girls in STEM, as well as concrete steps forward.
The panelists shared their personal journeys and struggles as women in leadership and engineering and highlighted the importance of engaging girls in STEM. Ortega emphasized the importance of her mentors in her path to and passion for STEM. Walker shared her project, Million Women Mentors, a program that offers professional mentorship for university students. She also gave a special shout-out to SWE for empowering organizations! While there has been much progress in this area, the panelists acknowledged that there is still much more than can be done.
After networking, participants were free to attend an open tabling session, where local organizations shared what they were doing to contribute to the mission of engaging girls in STEM. Among many, there were teams of young girls demoing their advanced STEM projects, STEM-focused schools, STEM-engaging programs for young women, and STEM organizations (like SWE!). Tablers shared their exciting work with Riverside leaders, professionals, parents, and young girls.
All in all, the initiatives to engage girls in STEM displayed at the RCOE event were truly inspiring and uplifting.