Expanding Your Horizons Chicago hosts STEM outreach event on campus

On March 25, 2017, Expanding Your Horizons (EYH) Chicago hosted a day-long conference for middle school girls on the University of Chicago campus. Close to 250 students attended the event, where they engaged in workshops related to careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The event was opened by a pair of keynote addresses from Emily Graslie, Chief Curiosity Correspondent for The Field Museum, and Eugenia Cheng, mathematician and senior lecturer at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

A total of 21 workshops were held throughout the day, led by female STEM professionals from the greater Chicagoland area. Students picked three workshops to attend, where they participated in hands-on activities such as isolating DNA from a banana, programming an interactive computer animation, and constructing circuits to run LEDs from solar panels. Graduate students and postdocs from the Biological Sciences Division volunteered for EYH, accompanying the girls to their workshops and acting as mentors throughout the day. “Our goal is to offer young women from diverse backgrounds opportunities to access positive, hands-on experiences with women currently working in STEM,” said Laura Manning, co-director of EYH Chicago. “Having those role models are crucial, and we aim to provide that in a fun, welcoming environment.”

Girls at EYH Chicago 2017 learn about methods in paleoGirls at EYH Chicago 2017 learn about methods in paleontology.

EYH Chicago was founded to address the specific needs that urban communities have when it comes to STEM education. Due to the isolation of Chicago communities, female students may not be exposed to well-matched role models in STEM careers. Moreover, the lack of educational resources leaves students and parents unaware of local STEM programs, academic planning, and professional expectations. EYH Chicago seeks to inform both students and parents of these resources, increasing their awareness of opportunities for individual success and allowing them to disseminate valuable knowledge to their communities as a whole. 

girls isolate banana DNA at EYH Chicago2017EYH Chicago 2017 participants isolate banana DNA.

As part of this mission, EYH Chicago also hosts a parent program that runs concurrently with the girls’ conference. Parents attend panel discussions highlighting the community resources available to help support their children’s educational and career development. This year, parents were able to hear women in a variety of STEM professions speak about their career trajectories, educational backgrounds, and the hurdles they may have encountered as women and minorities in STEM. Parents were also able to attend an activities panel, which included information from the Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) about financial aid and presentations from the Hispanic Center of Excellence and the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) about academic support and pre-professional programs for high school students.

EYH is currently in its fifth year in Chicago. The greater EYH Network hosts over 80 conferences worldwide throughout the year.