Junior high school girls from across the Metroplex came to Texas Wesleyan curious on Saturday, and left inspired.
The event, Expanding Your Horizons, marked its 30th anniversary at Wesleyan. The education conference focuses on the STEM fields and teaches young women that they, too, can make it into typically male dominated, high-profile careers.
“I think this experience was great for the young little girls, they get to learn different things,” said volunteer Yanae McGhee, a sophomore at Dunbar High School. “[Volunteering today] made me push toward leaving and going to college.”
Led by volunteering high school and Wesleyan students, the junior high girls trekked through the Wesleyan campus to participate in four one-hour workshops between 9:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.; two were in the morning, and two were in the afternoon. Pizza and Girl Scout cookies were served in the gym for lunch at noon. A door-prize drawing was held after the last workshop, and the girls went home by 3 p.m.
“It was pretty fun,” said Bellange Mucura, a sophomore from Polytechnic High School who worked with McGhee. “I liked hearing what the speakers had to say and listening to their stories and backgrounds. It gave me kinda more of a motivation to continue to go to college, because I can see what I can become, the fun things I can do, and the other things I can pursue.”
The attendees were divided up into groups. About three volunteers led each group. McGhee and Mucura lead group five. The workshops they visited covered topics such as sampling DNA from sources including urine, stool, and blood; what it’s like to be psychologist; studying brain activity and how infectious diseases spread; and making smart financial decisions that build toward the future.
Dr. Jane Moore, who coordinates the Wesleyan conference, said this year’s event was probably the biggest in EYH’s 30 years here; organizers had anticipated around 450 girls, and probably got more.
“It was very hectic,” she said. “I was concerned on the girls’ reaction and the presenters’ reaction, but all of the emails I got said that everything was fine and that the girls very interested and participated.”
A significant part of the large turnout were girls of color, a demographic that’s especially marginalized within the STEM disciplines, Moore said.
“Certainly, we hope we’ve made an impact on those young women,” Moore said. “It goes back to our education system. We’ve had a few African-American and Hispanic presenters, but the reason we don’t have more is that the system hasn’t gotten more girls of color through the pipelines so that they could come back and become presenters.”
Moore is now looking forward to next year’s conference. She believes the young women attending aren’t the only ones EYH stimulates to push to their full potential, but also everybody involved as well.
“It’s about the girls, but it touches so many lives,” she said. “The teachers, group leaders, other volunteers, security personnel … There’s a lot that goes on with the messages we push, and we hope that everybody’s benefitted from that, especially the girls.”