The San Joaquin Expanding Your Horizons (SJEYH) conference for girls celebrated its 27th year with the theme, “Follow Your Curiosity.” Held in late September, approximately 500 girls came to the University of the Pacific Campus in Stockton to learn more about science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
SJEYH, now affiliated with Techbridge Girls, is co-sponsored by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), Sandia National Laboratories and the University of the Pacific School of Engineering and Computer Science. The annual event is designed to spark girls’ interest in STEM careers. Participants, spanning grades 6-12, come from across San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties, including Stockton, Lodi, Manteca, Modesto and other rural communities to attend the daylong event.
LLNL computational mathematician Alyson Fox served as the keynote speaker.
“The only reason I am standing here talking to you all about my path is because I continued to follow my curiosity even when it was inconvenient, hard or even discouraging,” Fox said. “When I was your age, I never thought in a million years that I would be a mathematician. I was never encouraged to pursue any field in STEM, never explained the possible careers I could have and I wasn’t even encouraged to take the advanced math courses offered at my school.”
Although Fox was a good student and excelled in science and math classes, she thought she would more than likely go to art school. However, after visiting an art school, she decided it wasn’t for her.
“It wasn’t until my second semester freshman year in college that I had even heard of the term ‘math research.’ My statistics professor made an announcement in class that our school has an undergraduate summer research program for fields in STEM. Since I had always loved math, I applied and was selected as the only math student for that summer,” she said.
Fox persevered through many challenges and now she creates algorithms for some of the most impactful problems of today’s modern society. “I wouldn’t have gotten here if I didn’t listen to my heart and pursue the path that I felt was right,” Fox said. “Just know that your path will have ups and downs, that it will be hard and inconvenient at times, that you will be discouraged and told that you should be doing something else. You must cultivate your curiosity, as that is the only way to find a path that excites you. If you get excited about even the tiniest idea, find out more, ask questions, engage with people that could show you all the various opportunities open to you. You never know what you will find until you do. So, get out there and explore and find your passion.”
Each participant attended three out of 21 hands-on STEM-based workshops, such as: Bristle Bots, Computer Repair and Networking, Green Power, Athletic Training, Polymer Physics, Fun With Science, Lego Mindstorms, Solve a Cyber Crime, Ubiquitous Electronics and more.
After lunch and the final workshop, event organizers provided a slideshow of photos from the day and distributed door prizes to participants. Grand prizes included Fire 7 Tablets, a light-up speaker kit, a geometric laser projector, planetarium and hand-crank flashlight kit. Many of those present had attended SJEYH before. Elise Petersen, Sabrina Ochoa and Addie Azevedo received recognition for having attended the conference for all seven years.
Jeene Villanueva, computer scientist at LLNL, has served as SJEYH conference chair/co-chair since 2014.
“This year we have a new partnership with Techbridge Girls that enables us to have a greater impact using shared conference resources and management to support the advancement of the Expanding Your Horizons Network and its mission to inspire girls to pursue STEM-related careers. Their goal is to serve 1 million girls by 2030, and we’ll help them reach their goal,” she said. “We see new students every year and the best part about it is seeing the excitement on their faces when they learn something new, follow their curiosity and want to learn more about STEM careers.”
The annual conference is coordinated by a core committee of volunteers with the help of 140 additional volunteers who work at LLNL and Sandia National Laboratories and the University of the Pacific, as well as various members of the community. More than 40 LLNL employees were involved in SJEYH.
The SJEYH board is comprised of co-chairs Villanueva and Kina Kincher-Winoto (SNL), along with Martha Campiotti, Jenessa Dozhier, Marleen Emig, Candice Gellner, Cary Gellner, Carolyn Hall, Sharon Langman, Carrie Martin, Tera Moore, Patricia Lopez and Teri York.
Special guests attending the event included Steven Howell, dean of the School of Engineering and Computer Science at the University of the Pacific; Scot McBrian and Maria Mendez, Stockton Unified School District Board of Education; Katrina Rico, representative from Congressman Jerry McNerney’s Office; Eva Clark, Sandia National Laboratories manager; and Darlene Martinez, Riverbank City Council.