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Workshop participants show off their Earth Day banner (top); students and professional field questions during a panel discussion on interviewing skills (bottom). [Images: Courtesy of Gary Beasley]

On 22 April of this year—Earth Day—marches were held all around the world in the name of science. But at Central Carolina Community College (CCCC), USA, members of the campus’ OSA/SPIE student chapter found a different way to advocate for STEM.

Workshopping STEM

CCCC organized an all-girls’ STEM workshop, titled, “Tech Like a Girl.” The occasion focused on spectroscopy using photonics, and allowed the participants to explore light and all that it can do. Gary Beasley, CCCC’s lead instructor for laser and photonics technology and one of the workshop organizers, hopes that the Earth Day fĂȘte raised awareness about the CCCC laser program and helped the students open “their eyes to some of the vast career opportunities awaiting them in STEM.”

The girls participating  spent the day learning about photonics and spectroscopy with the help of the workshop’s leader, Yvette Mattley. A principal applications scientist at Ocean Optics in Dunedin, Fla., USA, Mattley used that company’s educational kit to teach students (and their parents) how spectroscopy is used to study matter. Additionally, Mattley shared her journey in becoming a female scientist, and how much pleasure she derives from her career. Nickolas Jorgenson, the CCCC OSA/SPIE student chapter president, believes that the workshop benefited CCCC students in addition to parents and participants. “The chapter members also learned a lot about spectroscopy and career opportunities from Dr. Mattley.”

Larger effort

The workshop, including the spectroscopy kits that the participants used in the active-learning exercise, were funded through LASER-TEC, a program funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) in which CCCC participates. LASER-TEC is the Southeast Regional Center for Laser and Fiber Optics Education, based in Fort Pierce, Fla., USA, and was established by NSF in 2013 to develop a sustainable pipeline of qualified laser and fiber optics technicians to meet industry demand across the southeastern United States.

The workshop also included a panel discussion titled “Interviewing Essentials—STEM Focus.” The panel consisted of six participants, including second-year laser students actively involved in the job-interview process, and local photonics professionals. The goal, Beasley says, was to help first-year laser students understand techniques that can help them better prepare for interviews.

The event grew out of a larger initiative run by Constance Boahn, the chair of CCCC’s engineering department. In 2016, Boahn launched strategic programming aiming to get more female students interested in a STEM career. The 22 April STEM workshop was the first in a series of similar events that Boahn plans to run.