PARK HILLS – In late March, Mineral Area College made a “Big Bang” during an event to introduce STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering and Math — along with other high-tech career options to freshman and sophomore girls from area school districts.
The event incorporated engineering careers promoted by a nationally-recognized, non-profit, tech curriculum generator Project Lead the Way. Careers in biomedical, architecture, civil, aerospace, digital electronics, computer information and manufacturing fields were emphasized.
Female characters from the hit TV show “Big Bang Theory,” Bernadette the microbiologist and Amy the neuroscientist, were referenced throughout the presentations, and kids were able to get their pictures taken with cardboard cutouts of the characters.
The “Big Bang Theory” High-Tech Workshop was organized by Tanya DeGonia, regional college and career consultant. PLTW curriculum is offered at Farmington High School, pre-engineering study is offered at MAC. Computer programs are offered at Mineral Area College and at the participants’ high schools.
Students heard from two presenters.
Genny Walters, who has a Bachelor’s Degree in Civil Engineering from Missouri University of Science & Technology, has worked full time for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers since graduating. She’s done extensive hydraulic and hydrologic engineering, served as the operations branch safety officer, helped the project management branch on various studies, and managed over $80 million in construction for The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Program.
Walters has also completed a graduate certificate in geo-environmental engineering and will complete her Master’s Degree in Civil Engineering in 2015.
In 2014, she received her professional engineering license in Illinois, and hopes to have her project management professional certification by the end of 2015. Her current projects include restoration of the Monarch-Chesterfield Levee System, a watershed planning study for Madison County, Illinois, and updating FEMA floodplain maps for the Cuivre River Watershed in Lincoln County, Missouri.
Amanda Bender, geologist, also presented. Bender graduated from the University of Maryland at College Park in 2011 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Geology and a Bachelor’s Degree in Germanic Studies. She has been involved with many scientific projects, from collecting fossils in the Bighorn Basin of Wyoming, to performing research with the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, and teaching international kids at Space Camp Turkey.
Her research with the Smithsonian focused on some of the earliest fossils of flowering plants from western North America. At Space Camp Turkey, Amanda led groups of international students through vigorous weeklong training sessions on space simulators to prepare for simulated space missions.
A second-year graduate student at Washington University in St. Louis, Bender is pursuing a doctorate in biogeochemistry. Her current research focuses on reconstructing paleoclimate from past environments by using plant material as a stand-in thermometer, or “proxy.” Bender is also interested in the effects of modern climate change. After graduating, Bender wants to continue to be involved with research on the intersection of plant biology and Earth history.
According to DeGonia, who gave the students a historical review of how far women have come, career-wise, women make up close to half of the work force, but the science, technology, engineering and math fields — often referred to as STEM fields — are still underrepresented by women.
“Women think differently than men and we need much diversity on these engineering teams and in the world of work,” she said. “Some schools are providing an all-girls class to empower them to ask questions and ease them into engineering careers where more women may be needed to round out the teams.”
One STEM career that’s in huge demand is computer programming.
“Anyone looking for a career should look into this field,” DeGonia said. “Men earn a majority of bachelor’s degrees in engineering, computer sciences and physics, which will lead to many high paying and demanding jobs. Women earn a majority of bachelor’s degrees in psychology, biological sciences and social sciences.”
Mineral Area College instructors led the students in activities related to engineering — Paul Fritch in computer programming; Dane Korenack in software development careers; Alan Bayless in agriculture and horticulture; and an information session about high-demand careers and personal plans of study given by Julie Downs.
Much of the funding for the event came from The Foundation for Missouri Women, the mission of which is to support organizations and programs that create economic opportunities for Missouri women and girls.