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Placer Sentinel

Mom Inspires Girls' STEM Event

Sep 23, 2021 12:00AM ● By Story and photos by Susan Maxwell Skinner

Event organizer Karen Jones and daughters Lauren (left) and Morgan. Mom's encouragement led her teenagers to shine in robotics. The girls were among mentors at a recent Aerospace Museum event.

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SACRAMENTO REGION, CA (MPG) - A mom’s determination for girls to pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) futures last weekend inspired a career day at the Aerospace Museum of California.

The event attracted hundreds of young women and their families. On-site role models included female professionals in medicine, dentistry, aviation and engineering"'fields where women comprise only a quarter of the workforce. Museum advancement director Karen Jones promoted the day with the idea that girls often felt disconnected from technology. “And yet we’re surrounded by it and using it in most aspects of our lives,” she says. “A young girl who talked to a water resource engineer last weekend said she had no idea water management offered career possibilities. For lots of girls, the word “engineer” sounds a big thing to grasped.

“It’s been my dream for many years to help change that culture. STEM is the future. I want girls not to just consume technology but to produce it; I want them to lift their heads from their phones and solve problems using the technology that’s all around them. The idea is not to exclude boys, but girls need more encouragement in these fields. We have flight simulators at the museum, and I see little girls holding back, like it’s something for their brothers. STEM experience is for everyone.

The Gold River mom’s passion hatched while raising her own daughters. Now teenagers, Lauren and Morgan Jones did what other little girls did: “They played with dolls and did gymnastics,” notes their mom. “But they had had their dolls zip-lining in the backyard. They were always building and figuring how to move things around. As they got older, I wanted them to have more technical experiences. I became a Girl Scout Leader so others could share the opportunities I wanted for my girls. Sure–my Girl troop did build-a-bear projects–but I also took them to Lego events and robot-building. They were lucky. My husband and I both work at the Museum, so my troop got to meet astronauts, engineers and pilots.  When my daughters wanted to join their school’s robotic team, I said, great! Having them excited about robots could lead to a ton of great opportunities.

“Lauren and Morgan had wonderful mentors. But I thought: what about young ladies who don’t?”

The idea of an event linking role models and young women hatched as Jones, Museum Vice President Linda Martin and SMUD Board Member Heidi Sanborn considered Rosie the Riveter’s iconic WW II image. Rosie moved mountains with her “we can do it” attitude; the Aerospace idea was to similarly inspire by modern example.  “We wanted to spark girls’ interest by having them up close to women sharing STEM journeys,” says Jones.  “We weren’t just offering career info; we asked mentors to talk about what inspired them. We want girls to be inspired, too. If they see themselves in these male-dominated jobs, they’ll think about pursuing technical fields.”

 “We Can Do It” day dawned bright and sunny; with dozens of STEM mentors and activities spread across the museum tarmac. Desert Storm veteran and airline pilot Cathy Cook was a rock star attraction. “It would’ve helped me to have events like this when I was a teenager,” observed Captain Cook. “Back then, there were no females flying. When you encounter a real pilot, you realize: it’s just an ordinary person, doing something I could do. I was surprised how I often had a line of girls waiting to see me. They asked good questions: Was I ever in emergencies? Was I ever afraid? I told them you’re not scared, you’re prepared. You have training and judgement to figure out what to do. Your plane doesn’t know whether it’s being controlled by a man or a woman. So why not a woman?” 

For info on the Aerospace Museum of California, visit www.aerospaceca.org

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