EYH convention

JMU math professor Rebecca Field speaks and encourages young women to receive greater education.

On any given Saturday, Memorial Hall is as quiet as a mausoleum. However, this past Saturday, JMU hosted the Expanding Your Horizons conference, leaving Memorial Hall packed buzzing with the laughter of young girls prepared for a science filled day.

Expanding Your Horizons is a science conference dedicated to girls in sixth through 10th grade that tries to increase their interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers.

Official numbers have not been released yet, but it was thought that 200 young girls and more than 100 parents from all across Virginia attended. To keep this large amount of students occupied, there were 30 JMU faculty members holding workshops and nearly 70 JMU student volunteers to help run the conference.

EYH is a network of programs that is dedicated to educating young girls. The organization was created in 1974 as the Math/Science Network, an informal group of women scientists in the San Francisco Bay area.

Since then, they have grown immensely, hosting conferences all across the United States and even across the globe. The conference has been held at JMU for seven years now, with the 2014 conference expected to be the most popular one yet.

Elizabeth Arnold, associate professor of mathematics and statistics, was surprised with this year’s turnout.

“We actually had to cut off registration and turn some girls away,” Arnold said. “Which is a shame, but we really can’t get too much bigger than this. We were just talking about how this is really the only space we can use right now.”

When EYH originally started it filled Miller Hall. Now it has expanded to fill the auditorium of Memorial Hall. Arnold, who has been with the program since its creation, believes it is crucial to these young girls because it gives them role models to look up to and shows them that science is not a male-dominated subject.

Saturday’s EYH included all-day workshops, a chemistry lab and two keynote speakers. The workshops consisted of activities to engage girls in STEM related subjects. The Society of Women Engineers held a class on building candy bridges to explore how different shapes have different strengths and how those shapes affect the bridge. Workshops ranged from oceanography to basic coding.

To open the conference, JMU invited business leader and female scientist Melanie Worth. Melanie Worth owns Foxden Equine Nutritional company a local nutritional company for horses. She gave a presentation on her life and what it was like growing up as a young female interested in the sciences fields, in a time where she was told, “Well you don’t need a degree honey, you are cute enough to get married.”

She later explained that she was told that by one of her university professors, and that she’s glad to see that this type of thought is not common anymore. She hopes that there will be a greater trend of women enrolling in both science and college programs in general. In JMU’s ISAT program men still outnumber women 1061 to 337, but there has been a general increase in enrollment since 2002 for both sexes; according to JMU’s Office of Instutional Research.

“I hope it opens their eyes and minds to the concept and thought that there is more to life than just being a mother and a wife, or not as their interests take them,” Worth said.

Worth hopes that young females stay in school and learn as much as they are capable of so they can have a fulfilling life, instead of being an what she described as a passive consumer.

In a study done by the American Association of University Women, they found that gender differences in self-confidence begin affecting STEM studies begins for young girl in middle school. That is exactly what EYH is trying to help with, empowering young women to become at least interested in the scientific fields. This is why Caroline Lubert, a mathematics professor, also spoke as a keynote speaker at the EYH conference and has held workshops since EYH’s creation at JMU.

Her speech was entitled “When I Grow Up, I Want to be a Rocket Scientist” and the cover slide of her presentation was a picture of a young boy working on a rocket.

“I looked everywhere for a girl tinkering with a rocket, I couldn’t find one anywhere. I went all over Google Images and so on, and I could only find a picture of a young boy messing with a rocket. So in itself that is really interesting,” Lubert said.

She continued on to say that almost every job she held in a science field — she has worked for BP, Jaguar Cars and Rolls Royce Motor Cars — were male-dominated environments. With male-only fitting boots, clothes and male restrooms.

“I hope the young girls leave here with an excitement for STEM. That they see, they can do it. This is something they can do with their life,” said associate professor Jacquelyn Nagel, who is the faculty head of the Society of Women Engineers, “It is not just, ‘Oh, that’s only for boys’. They see it that there are women here as role models who are successful in theses fields and that they can also be successful.”

Contact Chris Kent at kent2cm@dukes.jmu.edu.