Last Saturday, on March 28, Swarthmore College hosted 65 middle school girls and 30 parents and educators for the Catalyst Conference, a day-long STEM conference. Cataylst was designed to encourage middle school girls to study math and science by having them participate in hands-on workshops with female professors.
The student schedule included a keynote speech by Kelley Langhans ‘16, discussions about women in STEM fields, workshops, and a bicycle smoothie activity. The student workshops featured topics as diverse as “Origami, Math, and Art,” “Chemistry is Colorful,” “Did I see that or just perceive it?,” “Light and Structure of Bubbles,” “Juicy Genes,” and “Computers and Chemistry.”
So far, the event has received positive feedback from Swarthmore professors as well as the middle school participants. Professors noted their excitement at participating in the conference again next year. In addition, participants were also excited to attend the conference again as they said, “You should do this next year,” and “I learned that there are cool ways to have fun with math and science.” The girls who attended the conference were also excited to learn more about STEM fields, and left the conference with a better understanding of science.
Following the discussion about women in STEM fields, one parent said, “Thinking about some of the challenges faced by girls/women in STEM areas and trying to come up with solutions to overcome some of the challenges, persistence and resilience are key factors to encouraging the girls to continue in these fields.”
Another parent sent an email to the organizers thanking them for the experience and noting that following the conference her daughter expressed her interest in becoming an engineer.
Rose Pozos-Brewer ’15, one of the student planners of the conference, said, “I enjoyed walking by the workshops and seeing the girls engaged in the activities, learning from the professors as well as from each other […] There are improvements to be made, but I was happy to read the evaluations from the girls and parents and see that they had given the day high ratings. This is the third year that I have been part of Catalyst and each year it is great to see all the things that girls have learned and taken away from the conference.”
The student organizers also compiled a resource packet for information for girls interested in science to use after the conference. The packet includes information of other programs girls interested in science can participate in, local museums and gardens, book suggestions, online resources, and personal anecdotes from Swarthmore alumni in STEM Fields.