Pacific provides pathway for students considering STEM careers

girls in stem workshop

Solving a cybercrime, designing a wind turbine and building electronic toys were some of the hands-on activities students experienced Saturday during the 30th annual Expanding Your Horizons conference on University of the Pacific’s Stockton Campus.

More than 250 6th-12th grade students from San Joaquin County and the surrounding area attended the event, which is designed to increase female student’s interest and awareness of careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

Though they have made significant strides, women are still underrepresented in STEM fields. In 2021, women made up nearly half (48%) of the U.S. workforce but only 27% of STEM workers, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“The more we can introduce girls and young women to science and math, the more confident they become in their abilities,” said Nancy Elium, assistant dean for student support and academic advising in the College of Engineering and Computer Science, and conference organizer. “We can ignite a passion in these students and allow them to see the many career options they can pursue in STEM fields.” 

Pacific’s School of Engineering and Computer Science hosted the annual event, along with longstanding collaborators Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories. Expanding Your Horizons was held live after two years of being virtual due to the pandemic.

Keynote speaker Kim Budil, director of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, spoke to participants about opening their eyes to career possibilities—in STEM and other areas. Budil is the first woman to lead the laboratory in its 70-year history.

“The most important message to you today is you do not need to know exactly what you want to do. You don’t even need an aiming point at this time,” Budil said. “The greatest gift you have is to be interested in the world around you, and to explore.”

Each student rotated through three of 15 hands-on sessions such as the “Full STEAM Ahead” workshop, in which students designed a paper amusement park ride using basic circuitry, or “Solve a Cyber Crime,” which turned students into on-line sleuths. 

Hands-on projects and experiments also exposed students to the science behind global warming, the chemistry involved in winemaking and how to conduct research with marine mammals, among others. Sessions were taught by Pacific faculty and graduate assistants as well as scientists from the national laboratories.

Emily Velasco, an eighth-grade student from Stockton, said she came to explore STEM fields.

“I have not found my passion yet, but I am interested in so many things,” she said. “An event like this helps open your minds to possibilities. I am very interested in chemistry.”

Middle-schooler Karla Ortiz of Turlock, taking part in an electronics workshop, agreed. “You never know what you are going to do in life. I am going to try a lot of things today.”

Ana Aguilera, a middle school teacher from Riverbank, brought an eager busload of 33 students to campus. “You can’t over-state what a day like this can mean for students,” she said.