STEAM-ing ahead towards a professional future of opportunity for women

Young women’s science and tech event in Illinois promotes power of preparation

The movement toward greater female representation in the industries of science, technology and engineering is really picking up STEAM.

And these young women from the Chicago area are here to tell you it’s far from over.

On Saturday, Feb. 24, the Girls STEAM Ahead 2018 event attracted a crowd of 200—including girls from 28 different schools within a 60-mile radius of Homewood, a village located in Chicago’s south suburbs—for an inspiring afternoon of interactive presentations, speeches, and workshops from the likes of Google and Microsoft.

And to think the annual event was being staged for just a second time.

Aimed at girls from Grades 7 through 12, attendees were exposed to women who range from college grads to established professionals—exposure intended to propel them on a path to opportunity.

Edie Dobrez, executive director of Homewood Science Center, credits the immense response and success of the event to the current global conversation—think #MeToo, the outpouring of support in recent women’s marches, and the Silence Breakers being named TIME Magazine’s 2017 Person of the Year.

“At this age, girls need to be exposed to a variety of professions and the world of work,” says Dobrez. “We have this incredible gathering of women that is so powerful. It is an empowering afternoon for these girls, and the women professionals, too.”

The Girls STEAM Ahead program is one of many offered by the Homewood Science Center, but Dobrez says she could see it taking a life of its own in the future.

“I love the idea of Girls STEAM Ahead being ongoing throughout the year. The women professionals are enthusiastic about connecting girls to a variety of opportunities, including internships, volunteering and job shadowing,” says Dobrez, who hopes to expand the program's impact through a greater online presence.

“I think we're on to something that will move the needle and get more young women pursuing STEAM education and careers," she says. "Many of the women in attendance have commented that they wish there had been a Girls STEAM Ahead when they were a young student."

In addition to Google and Microsoft, Saturday’s other panel members included speakers from the University of Chicago, SpaceX and Schneider Electric. Fittingly, the event was held at the end of Engineers Week in the United States.

The event is free of charge, and requires only an application for students to attend.

“We are really fortunate to have such amazing supporters. Without the funding, these events don’t happen,” says Dobrez.

Enbridge’s donation of $5,000 to Girls STEAM Ahead 2018 supported the event and purchased lunch for those gathered at Idlewild Country Club, while Enbridge engineer Trina Salvisberg moderated a panel.

“The vast majority of girls in attendance come from minorities. This year we were at roughly 70 percent African American and 10 percent Hispanic. Some of our girls also come from disadvantaged backgrounds, so it really motivates us to make this event special for them,” says Dobrez.

Make no mistake, though. The adverse circumstances faced by some women are not about to turn them away from pursuing their dreams. Not in 2018.

“If we keep doing the same thing—what we’ve done in the past—it will stay the same. But if we come together for initiatives like Girls STEAM Ahead, there is no stopping women,” says Dobrez.

“Put 200 of us in a room, and a lot is going to happen.”

(TOP PHOTO: Enbridge engineer Trina Salvisberg moderates a panel during the second annual Girls STEAM Ahead event in the greater Chicago area on Saturday, Feb. 24.)