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Kentucky Girls STEM Collaborative 'Goes for the Gold' at Annual Conference

By Jenny Wells

(June 26, 2015) — The University of Kentucky hosted the seventh annual Kentucky Girls STEM Collaborative conference, "Go for the Gold," June 12 at E.S. Good Barn, bringing representatives from across the state together to help advance gender equality in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

"We are pleased to provide a forum for Kentucky residents to join us in this endeavor," said Sue Scheff, co-chair of the collaborative. "Our agenda included a full day of speakers and hands-on activities to excite and entertain girls as well as educate the parents, teachers, and community leaders of the many career opportunities available to young people in Kentucky."

Kentucky continues to rank very low in number of scientists and engineers, high-tech jobs, and industry investment in research and development. The Kentucky Girls STEM Collaborative, based at UK, aims to build a strong, diverse workforce in Kentucky by bringing programs and organizations together that are committed to motivating girls to pursue educational choices in STEM disciplines. 

"The annual conference is an opportunity to share ideas, researched based practices, and to encourage girls to consider the benefits of a career in STEM," said Czarena Crofcheck, co-chair of the collaborative and professor in the UK Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering. "As a statewide collaborative, we are committed to making sure that our programs reach across the state, so that our impact can be maximized."

Crofcheck and three other UK faculty members presented at the conference, including keynote speaker Christia Spears Brown, an associate professor of psychology in the UK College of Arts and Sciences. Tanya Franke-Dvorak, a lecturer in the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment and Christine Trinkle, associate professor in the UK College of Engineering, also presented.

A special session just for middle and high school students was held in the afternoon, coined the "STEM Olympics." Students had the opportunity to break into teams and complete hands-on projects and activities. Quinn Andrews, a sophomore at Henry Clay High School in Lexington, was one of the students who participated. 

"My favorite part (was when) we got to build structures out of gum drops and toothpicks; the structure that didn’t fall apart when dropped received the most points," said Andrews, who is considering a career in medicine or engineering. "It was interesting to meet so many other girls (also) interested in science."

Carol Christian, director of the Craft Academy at Morehead State University, both attended and presented at the conference with her colleagues. Her program, like many of those represented at the conference, came about with the goal of developing the next generation of entrepreneurs and innovators that can impact Kentucky and beyond through STEM careers.

"Anytime we can engage in discussions that target underrepresented populations in education and careers is a wonderful thing," Christian said. "We need more women using their gifts and talents to enter and lead in STEM fields. Social justice should continually be in the forefront of leaders' thinking when recruiting, hiring and training people. Gender is but one of many things that should never be considered in determining whether one can do a job or not or at what level."