Emily Graslie is the keynote speaker for the 2020 Women in Science Conference. Photo by Aubrey Jane Photo.
Aberdeen’s Women in Science Conference brings forth more possibilities for local girls by connecting them with female role models in STEM careers.
As a fifth-grader, Amy Parkin witnessed her first tornado. “I was fascinated by it and decided right then and there that I wanted to work in the weather field,” she says. Today, she is a lead meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Aberdeen. But she recognizes there are still many girls out there who aren’t following their love of science and math and going on to have careers in these fields. In fact, a 2018 study by Microsoft showed that while STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) opportunities have become a higher priority in schools, efforts to expand female interest in these careers are still behind, especially when it comes to technology and engineering (Why do Girls Lose Interest in Stem? Suzanne Choney, news.microsoft.com). Further, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts technology professionals will experience the highest growth in job numbers over the next decade, however only a fraction of women will fulfill these roles. Microsoft’s study points to various reasons why this might be the case, including peer pressure, lack of support from parents and teachers, and a lack of role models combined with a misconception of what STEM careers look like in the real world.
Local women agree that our girls need more women they can look up to and more information about the types of careers available to them. That’s why for the past 18 years they have hosted the Women in Science Conference. Amy explains, “So many studies have shown that girls begin to lose interest in science and math around middle school at a higher rate than boys. Our goal is to introduce girls to women who are in STEM careers and show them that it can be done.” Every year, around 300 girls from area schools in grades 7-12 attend the free conference held at NSU. Here, they get to meet and learn from women presenters who work in a variety of STEM fields. Lisa Johnsen, administrative assistant at the National Weather Service in Aberdeen, co-founded the conference with Amy back in 2002. She says, “We want to give our attendees the chance to see what kinds of careers are available to them, and also to connect them with potential mentors or women they could even job shadow someday. A lot of times we’ll hear girls who have attended the conference say, ‘I had no idea there were so many different fields or careers like this.’”
The 2020 Women in Science Conference will take place the afternoon of March 10, and will also include an additional evening presentation that is open to the public and to all ages. At least eight women professionals will present at the conference, including keynote speaker Emily Graslie. A Rapid City native and the chief curiosity correspondent at The Field Museum of Chicago, Emily also hosts “The Brain Scoop,” an educational YouTube channel where she takes viewers behind the scenes in natural history museum work. Like many girls today, she says she was fascinated by science at a young age but lost interest in it during high school when it became more about passing standardized tests and less about interacting with the natural world. She instead decided to study art, until stumbling upon her university’s natural history museum changed her life’s course. Today, she also dedicates her time to traveling around the country encouraging other women and girls to see themselves in science-related fields too.
A committee of women from the National Weather Service, Sanford, NSU, AAUW, the Brown County Extension Office, and Brown County 4-H meet throughout the year to plan the Women in Science Conference. Their work has expanded from Aberdeen into all parts of the state. Pierre, Rapid City, Sioux Falls, Watertown, Spearfish, Mitchell, and Yankton each now host their own conference too. Amy says they continue putting the conference together year after year because it’s something they wish they’d had while growing up. “New career fields are continuously being developed, and so we want to keep our local girls up-to-date on what’s out there. If they can see real examples of women in STEM, they can know it’s possible and that is isn’t something they should give up on if they’re interested in it.” // — Jenny Roth
To learn more about the annual Women in Science Conference, contact Amy or Lisa at the National Weather Service at 605-225-0519 or visit www.facebook.com/WomenInScienceAberdeen.
2020 Women in Science Conference Speakers
Keynote: Emily Graslie, Chief Curiosity Correspondent, The Field Museum in Chicago
“My primary job at the museum is to make educational YouTube videos about the specimens and collections we house. The Field Museum has more than 30 million specimens under our roof, from things as small as insects to those as big as dinosaurs!”
April Schultz, Pharmacogenetics Manager, Sanford
Sioux Falls Imagenetics
Her advice for students attending the conference is, “Always try and experience as much as you can and push yourself, you never know what you can do until you try. Embrace what makes you unique, because you are, and there is a very important role for you in this world.”
Rachel Cantrell, Integrative Health Therapist, Sanford Aberdeen
“As a psychology major in college, I didn’t find out about clinical social work until my senior year. When I learned about all the doors that a master’s degree in social work could open, it felt like it would be a good fit for me. Being a licensed clinical social worker allows me to work in a variety of settings, from psychiatric hospitals to outpatient treatment clinics and even private practice.”
N.D. Department of Ag
Her advice to students attending the conference is: “Besides taking classes in school that are related to a potential career, become involved in extra activities that may also help you in your career path.”
Dr. Erin Brownlee, Assistant Professor/Instructor of Math, NSU
“I have always enjoyed math because completing challenging problems can be very frustrating along the way, but the satisfaction in the end is worth it. Math is not just about memorizing formulas and algorithms, there is a whole world of math out there to explore. Mathematicians are out there making new mathematical discoveries all the time.”
Quality Manager, POET
Her advice to students attending the conference is, “Pick a career path that you are truly passionate about. If you do, work will never feel like work. You will enjoy being there. In my experience, internships provide an in-depth look into that specific industry or career without making a full commitment. Experience as many as possible throughout your education.
Operations Manager, 3M
“I started working in manufacturing as an engineer and as I learned more about how a manufacturing facility works, my interest changed to leadership. Having a background in engineering helped open doors for me to move into varying leadership roles at 3M.”
Senior Electrical Engineer, Medtronic
Her advice to students attending the conference is, “Stay balanced and make sure to take other classes you enjoy whether it be art, music, shop, etc. Being solely focused in one area will limit how you see things and make decisions and may prevent you from finding something you’re even more interested in. Take advantage of the freedom to explore.”