I recently had the opportunity to volunteer at the AAUW Springfield (IL) Branch’s 25th annual Expanding Your Horizons (EYH) conference. Around 300 sixth, seventh, and eighth grade girls flocked to my campus, the University of Illinois, Springfield, to learn about the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
After conducting several campus tours for groups of sleepy girls and parents at 8 a.m., I stopped by some of the workshops held throughout the day. At the university’s television studio, girls were leading interviews and learning how to use the cameras. Across campus, groups of girls clustered around two women veterinarians, who were demonstrating on a black Labrador retriever the proper way to conduct a canine physical exam. In other workshops, girls explored ecology, physical therapy, forensics, product development, dentistry, and aeronautics. Meanwhile, their parents attended workshops on college and career planning.
What truly struck me as I toured the conference was the sheer amount of woman power that made this event possible. Presenters traveled from companies and universities across the state, middle school girls woke up at 5 a.m. to attend their workshops, members of my university’s Women’s Issues Caucus came back early from their spring break to volunteer, and, of course, the heroes from my local AAUW branch poured their time into organizing and running the conference.
The day ended with a presentation by Susan Evens, flight director of the Challenger Learning Center in Normal, Illinois. Her remarks summed up the feeling of the day perfectly: that a lifelong commitment to education and hard work can propel young women toward any goal they choose. Whether they go on to become computer programmers, astronauts, physicians, or botanists, the 300 girls who came to my campus are part of the future of equality, and the 2012 EYH conference gave them the inspiration to make this future great.