Wonderful Women and Superheroes in STEM conferences for high school students a success

Fermilab held its second Wonderful Women in STEM Conference on Nov. 2 and the first Superheroes in STEM Conference on Nov. 16. Both conferences are geared towards high school students. The Hispanic/Latino Forum group, which is part of the diversity and inclusion program at Fermilab, led the effort. More than 100 students from the Chicago area and their parents were engaged in each activity, some of them visiting Fermilab for the first time.

The conferences were opportunities for high school students and their parents to visit the lab and interact with experts in STEM fields. The students received an up-close experience of what it’s like to work in a national lab in the areas of engineering, computing or physics. Parents received a tour through the lab installations.

The day began with an introduction from members Fermilab’s Directorate, Chief of Staff Hema Ramamoorthi and Chief Operating Officer Katherine Gregory. Scientists Jessica Esquivel and Bo Jayatilaka gave keynote addresses.

The students were then treated to a lively cryogenic demonstration by Tanaz Mohayai, Oscar Moreno and Jamie Santucci.The students then separated from the parents to attend a breakout session of their choosing to learn through hands-on activities. The engineering track, led by Aria Soha, gave the students an opportunity to design, build and test their own model car. In the electrical engineering track, led by Miguelangel Marchan, students learned breadboard basics — how to connect resistors, capacitors and integrated circuits — and ultimately built a phone speaker out of a battery and an LED switch circuit. The computing track, led by Jenny Teheran and Marco Mambelli, had students apply computational concepts to solve puzzles, riddles and challenges while learning about exciting technologies such as virtual and augmented reality and computational thinking. In the physics track, led by Mehreen Sultana, Gonzalo Diaz and Andrew Oliver, students used real MINERvA data to identify and classify various neutrino event displays and make histograms of interaction properties.

All of these activities gave students a chance to apply their creative, scientific and problem-solving skills under the guidance of Fermilab scientists, engineers and graduate students.

Following the activities, the parents and students met in One West for a panel discussion of diverse Fermilab STEM professionals. The panels included Maurice Ball, Davide Braga, Farah Fahim, Lauren Hsu, Tanya Levshina, Carrie Lynne, Lorena Lobato, Fernanda Psihas, Peter Shanahan, Jason St. John, Jessica Turner and Tammy Walton. Each panelist talked about their motivation for entering their fields. They also shared the challenges and rewarding experiences in the daily job as well as in their careers throughout their time working at Fermilab.

Many thanks to all who contributed. We couldn’t have had such successful STEM events without the support and dedicated time of about 40 volunteers, organizing and training for the activities months before the events. Our gratitude also to the Fermilab offices of Diversity and Inclusion and Education and Public Outreach for all their help.

Fermilab physicists Minerba Betancourt and Leo Aliaga Soplin and engineering physicist Aria Soha are the conference organizers. Aliaga and Betancourt are also leaders of the laboratory Hispanic/Latino Forum. Soha is also president of the Fermilab Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers.