Wiregrass holds Women in STEM Symposium

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By: Emma Wheeler | WCTV Eyewitness News
June 4, 2019

VALDOSTA, Ga. (WCTV) -- Wiregrass Technical College is helping girls get psyched about STEM.

On Tuesday, the college held its first Women in STEM Symposium and Professional Development Day. Teachers, counselors and advisers from all across South Georgia gathered to talk about how to keep women engaged in STEM fields.

Organizers said getting young girls interested in STEM is one challenge, but keeping them interested is an entirely different challenge. That's what educators are hoping to address.

Wiregrass staff said, while STEM industries and programs are growing both nationally and locally, they aren't growing fast enough to meet the needs in the industry, especially when it comes to female involvement.

"We have very few females in our highly technical programs, whether that's our Computer Science, Networking, Programming, or it's Mechatronics, the pre-engineering," said Angela Hobby, VP of Enrollment Management. "There's a lot of interest from girls at the middle school level, but as they grow and get older, something happens, and that interest either falls away, which we don't think happens. We think the support's not there."

During the workshop Tuesday, educators learned how to provide that support.

This fall, freshman Lauren Freeman will be studying Mechatronics at Wiregrass. Freeman, whose mother is a math teacher, said the support she had from her family allowed her to conquer obstacles she faced as a woman pursuing STEM.

"I kind of felt like, am I supposed to be here, am I not supposed to be here? But, I got it in my head and with my teacher, I was like, I'm here for a reason, I feel drawn to this for a reason," Freeman said.

Now, she hopes to share that support with others so they keep following their dreams, no matter what they are.

"Whenever I see someone else, like, am I supposed to be here? I can look at them and be like, you love this, you're awesome at this, you got this. And see their face light up like, yeah, I do, it's the best thing I've ever seen," Freeman said.

During the Tuesday workshop, educators also learned about grant opportunities through the Georgia Department of Education, and how to implement those programs in schools. Organizers hope the event can help jump-start more programs for girls in STEM.