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Make it Happen Conference Encourage Girls to Pursue STEM Careers

Monday, February 19, 2018

LAWRENCE — A pressing question: How to encourage today’s young girls to attend college in the future, ready and eager to major in science, technology, engineering and math? Here's one answer: Get their moms involved.

That was the idea behind the Make It Happen conference Feb. 17 at the University of Kansas School of Engineering. More than 70 mother-daughter duos attended a day of events designed to encourage middle school students to pursue careers in STEM disciplines. The conference was the brainchild of Ashley Hutton, a senior in computer science, and Alita Joseph, a senior in mechanical engineering.

“There's not enough girls in STEM right now. A lot of my classes have 70 people in them, and maybe three of us are females,” Hutton said. “There is a lot of research that shows there are a ton of girls interested in STEM in elementary school, and for some reason in middle school they lose their interest. So that's why we invited them here, to hopefully reignite that feeling, that spark, to really get them excited about it.”

Joseph said she attended engineering-oriented events when she was in middle school, but none of them were “women-focused.” A federal report in November said women make up just 24 percent of the STEM workforce.

That’s why, Joseph said, she thought it would be “cool if I could put on an event and show girls that there are female engineers and it's really cool to do engineering.”

Mothers were invited, the duo said, in hopes they’d continue to encourage the girls in STEM pursuits long after the conference ended. 

“So hopefully this day will also be an opportunity for them to learn about what resources are available to their daughter, so they can help propel them forward,” Hutton said. “Or if the mom has a great interest in STEM, maybe this will encourage her to pursue something.”

“it's just important to get the parents involved,” Joseph said. “You have that much more of a support system.”

The day’s events included a robotics demonstration by Andrew Williams, the School of Engineering’s associate dean for diversity, equity & inclusion. Other events included keynote speakers, lab tours as well a breakout session where participants built bionic hands.

Darci Falin of Lawrence brought her 13-year-old daughter, Evelyn.

"Having a daughter who is really interested in this kind of stuff, we weren't sure how to encourage her,” Darci Falin said. “So having this, I can learn to how to encourage and support her interests.”

Evelyn Falin said she’s still not sure what her future holds, but she enjoyed the conference: “Things like this do help,” she said.

Joseph and Hutton raised nearly $3,800 through a crowdsourcing campaign to provide T-shirts, food and activities for the conference attendees. The two planned the conference as part of their “capstone” project in their Self Engineering Leadership Fellows Program.

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