Nearly 150 middle school and high school girls from across the Midstate recently attended the 27th annual Tennessee Girls in STEM Conference at Middle Tennessee State University.
STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — remains at the forefront of the event, where middle school and high school girls gain knowledge and advice from experts wanting them to consider careers in these fields.
They were introduced to fun and challenging hands-on activities during their time on the MTSU campus.
Forensic science, math, nursing, physics, psychology, robotics and sports medicine were among the hands-on activities middle school girls could pursue.
The high school girls were treated to a special panel discussion — “From Water to Wildlife: Important Environmental Careers that Impact Our Daily Lives” — and later participated in their own hands-on workshops.
MTSU alumna Maria Hite of La Vergne, Tennessee, was the keynote speaker for the Saturday, Sept. 30, event. She is a second-year student at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, and part of the inaugural class of MTSU and Meharry’s Medical School Early Acceptance Program. The purpose of the seven-year accelerated program is to increase primary care physicians in medically underserved areas in Tennessee.
“Maria Hite is the perfect example of what can happen when a girl attends the Tennessee Girls in STEM conference,” said Freneka Minter, MTSU alumna and senior community research program manager with the Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance.
“As a high schooler, she attended two TGIS conferences,” Minter added. “She enjoyed exploring different STEM fields so much that she volunteered as a group leader for TGIS in college. Now, Maria, a product of the first class of the MTSU and Meharry Medical College’s Medical School Early Acceptance Program, is in her second year of medical school at Meharry and embarking on learning the art and science of medicine.”
Minter earned bachelor’s (2002 in chemistry) and master’s (’05 in health and physical education, with concentration in community health) degrees from MTSU.
About 80 MTSU student volunteers joined faculty and numerous off-campus individual and partners in leading to a successful event.
Support and funding for the event came from the MTSU College of Basic and Applied Sciences, InfoWorks, MTSU, the Nashville Section of the American Chemical Society, National Science Foundation, Newell Brands, Nissan North America, Schneider Electric, Texas Instruments and others.
Another sponsor, American Association for University Women/State of Tennessee, is led by MTSU alumna and President Nancy James, who retired as director of the former MTSU Child Care Lab. She has two bachelor’s (both in 1981) and one master’s (’84) degree.
Award-winning chemistry professor Judith Iriarte-Gross has directed the girls’ STEM conference for almost 30 years and oversees the MTSU WISTEM (Women in STEM) Center.
“Imagine how many girls have been reached through this annual STEM conference and the impact that these future STEM professionals will have on our state, throughout the South and across the nation and the world,” Iriarte-Gross said, then offering a role model.
“Will TGIS girls conduct biochemical research like Katalin Karikó?” Iriarte-Gross added. “Today (Oct. 2) Dr. Karikó, a biochemist, and here colleague, Dr. Drew Weissman received the Nobel Prize in Medicine for their work in the development of the mRNA technology used to prevent Covid-19 infections. Imagine, how TGIS girls will provide evidence needed to solve future problems and this began in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.”
For more information about the 2024 conference, call 615-904-8253 or visit the conference website.
— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu)