St. Margaret’s Symposium Demonstrates the Power, Promise and Influence of Females in STEAM to Impact the World—Watch Film! 

Girls in STEAM merges the possibilities of STEAM fields—science, technology, engineering, arts and math—with championing the power and potential of girls and women.
Girls and young women from across Southern California formed an impressive cohort of STEAM enthusiasts engaged in conversation about the future and hands-on activities Tuesday evening for the 2021 Girls in STEAM Symposium hosted by St. Margaret’s Episcopal School for the fifth consecutive year. Girls in STEAM merges the possibilities of STEAM fields—science, technology, engineering, arts and math—with championing the power and potential of girls and women.

The opening general session, which you can watch here, kicked off with prominent STEAM women sharing the positive influences that led them on a path to a STEAM career and messages of encouragement for attendees. St. Margaret’s women in STEAM speakers included, Middle School math teacher Veronica Johns-Richardson, Upper School science teacher Dr. Jennifer Ross Viola, who also led and organized the symposium for the past three years, digital arts and photography teacher Amanda Albanese, Mathematics Department Chair Elizabeth O’Shea, Upper School science teacher Dr. Stephanie Capen, Lower School STEAM teacher Laura Redman, and St. Margaret’s Upper School STEAM student Tina Mai, who recently won top prize in the 2021 Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship World Series of Innovation for her or her app that enables better financial access for unbanked people. Their passion for their fields and for the importance of women in STEAM came through in their remarks.

Ms. Johns-Richardson said, “I encourage lots of young ladies to take up into different STEAM fields as much as you can. Women, we come in different ethnicities, different cultures, different backgrounds and different identities. We are daughters, we are sisters, we are friends. Some of us are wives, and partners and mothers. And, you know what, we are also creators, we are inquisitive, we are very complex beings and very complex thinkers. We are so strong and we adapt. The world is changing every single day, and with this ever-changing world, STEAM has been the way to keep us adapting and keep us current. To keep up with these changes, we need women, we need YOU! Our voices matter, and we are so important. So let’s do this! Yes! Girls in STEAM!”

Ms. O’Shea shared how she was influenced by her female astronomy professor at UCLA Dr. Andrea Ghez to pursue a degree in astrophysics. Dr. Ghez, who is one of only four women to ever receive the Nobel Prize in Physics, is one of the reasons Mrs. O’Shea is so passionate about mentoring girls into STEAM fields. “She is one of the reasons I work so hard to inspire other females. It has very much become one of my goals to be a role model for females and hopefully have the same impact on their lives that Dr. Ghez had on mine,” she said.

Dr. Capen said, “We need more women in STEAM! Women are amazing and have historically contributed so much to steam fields and have so much more to contribute. I think in general the more voices, ideas and perspectives that are contributing to a field, the more discoveries we are going to make."

The keynote address was delivered by California tech entrepreneur and String start-up co-founder Meral Arik, who shared her journey starting out as a girl who loved playing computer games, creating, performing and starting businesses, and how she realized that all the products she used and loved the most were all made possibly through technology. She combined her intense curiosity, willingness to try different things, and her love of technology, creating things and performance in her career aspirations.

“I am so incredibly proud of each and every one of you! The most important thing you can do for your career and for your life is to show up, and you are doing that here today. And, I promise you, if I can do it, you can do it too. You can do anything you that put your mind to! How? Be curious, dream big, work hard, and try new things before you feel ready. If you ever feel intimidated by a subject in school, a class, or a job opportunity, do it anyway!  That just means it is an opportunity for you to learn and grow. And, I promise you, you will figure it out. No matter what you want to accomplish in life, studying science, engineering, technology, arts and math is an incredible first step. It’s an amazing world of endless possibilities and you’ll find yourself constantly learning, building, growing and doing incredible things,” said Ms. Arik.

Four of California’s top graduate school scholars recognized in the University of California, Irvine Grad Slam 2021 competition also presented their award-winning, three-minute dynamic and highly engaging Grad Slam research presentations. Marking the fourth year UCI Grad Slam awardees presented at Girls in STEAM, this year’s speakers were: UCI Grad Slam 2021 Champion Leslie Heid, representing mathematical, computational, and systems biology scholar, UCI Grad Slam 2021 2nd Place Winner Jessica Vidmark, biomedical engineering scholar, UCI Grad Slam 2021 3rd Place Winner Hamsi Radhakrishnan, neurobiology and behavior/mathematical computational and systems biology scholar, and UCI Grad Slam 2021 Finalist Ying Huang, materials science and engineering scholar.

Attendees then broke into hour-long, hands-on, STEAM workshops by age group with peers and mentors led by St. Margaret’s partner, Dreams for Schools. A hands-on engineering workshop for girls in grades 4 – 6, introduced engineering and challenged them to build their own engineering project with supplies provided in advance. The second workshop engaged girls in grades 7 – 12 in a web development activity learning and using different web languages, HTML and CSS, to code and build their own website. 

Dreams for Schools is a non-profit California organization that promotes education equity by bridging gaps in STEM for elementary and middle school institutions through its programs. DFS posted about the symposium afterwards, “Women in STEAM are truly an inspiration! Young girls got to create their own drawing robots and code up their own websites. Seeing what these girls were able to accomplish during the Girls in STEAM symposium was absolutely amazing. We’re beyond excited to see what they’ll be able to accomplish in the future!”

The 2021 Girls in STEAM Symposium was free and open to girls from across Southern California, grades 4 – 12, made possible in part by generous underwriting and sponsorship from the Sullivan Family who are members of the St. Margaret’s community.

St. Margaret’s Director of Educational Technology and Library and Computer Science Department Chair Angela Mackenzie, who chaired the 2021 Girls in STEAM Symposium, thanked the expert speakers, the Sullivan family, and attendees and offered closing guidance, “If there’s anything that I personally want you to take away from this event it is that you should never be afraid to try new things. Lean into something new, even if it scares you a little bit or makes you uncomfortable. Always know that you have many, many teachers here at St. Margaret’s and even beyond St. Margaret’s that would love to support you in this journey—no matter where you are. Just know that we are here for you.

“We are excited to continue to host this important event that celebrates the achievements and amplifies the voices of women in STEAM fields, connects girls and young women to connect with peers and role models and highlights the endless possibilities and opportunities for academic, professional paths and fun to be had in STEAM,” said Mrs. Mackenzie.

All attendees received an interactive poster board of learning resources, hands-on activities, inspiration and connections to continue to pursue their STEAM interests well after the symposium. They will also be first on the list to be notified and invited back when Girls in STEAM 2022 is announced for next spring.

The Girls in STEAM Symposium was created in 2017 by STEAM educators at St. Margaret’s Episcopal School to encourage girls into STEAM courses and academic paths because females in particular are underrepresented in advanced STEAM courses in high school and higher education and in professional fields of industry. Yet, research shows that more diverse workforces, like having a gender balance results in higher efficiency and more creative outcomes—essentially STEAM and the world needs the perspective, talents, ideas and ingenuity of girls and women. Girls in STEAM has been a tremendous success welcoming hundreds of future “Women in STEAM,” from across Southern California and an incredible array of inspiring women leaders in their fields – engineers, scientists and researchers, medical doctors and nurses, computer programmers and technology, and entrepreneurs in conversation, collaboration and celebration of STEAM. Over the years, the event has included key note speaker presentations, hands-on workshops and activities, break-out panel discussions by field, and a mentoring lunch, and presentations from UCI Grad Slam finalists.
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