STEAMing Ahead: ‘Our Students Belong in These Careers’

In greater Chicago, Homewood Science Center’s day-long event inspires young women to pursue STEAM careers
Jun 3, 2024 1:00 PM ET
A group of students stood at an event stand
TOP PHOTO: Homewood Science Center’s 2024 Girls STEAM Celebration, held in mid-April, drew students from 24 middle and high schools from the greater Chicago area.

A hush filled the conference room, as 150 girls directed their excitement and focus to the task at hand: creating their own sugar scrub.

They had just learned about the biology of skin and the science of skin care, and now they concentrated on crafting their own product, applying everything they learned throughout the day.

The Grade-6-through-12 students were part of a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) day of learning held April 13 at Prairie State College in Chicago Heights, a city just a few miles south of Chicago and adjacent to the northwest Indiana border.

The yearly event is billed as “a celebration,” says Edie Dobrez, executive director of Homewood Science Center in Homewood, Illinois, which has hosted the day for girls since 2017. “What we’re celebrating is the students, and what is possible in their future.”

Attendees come from 24 middle and high schools, all based in a region of Illinois and Indiana known for being culturally and economically diverse. Participants learn what a career in STEAM could look like—from working in medicine to engineering to physical therapy to the trades, and everything in between.

Mentors from the community are selected to reflect the diversity of the student population to ensure the girls can see themselves represented in STEAM careers, Dobrez explains.

“Many of our girls come from disadvantaged backgrounds. They’ve never been exposed to these types of opportunities,” she continues. “There’s a lot of talk about getting more women in STEAM roles, about a more diverse workforce. But what is happening to make that happen? Girls STEAM Celebration is our answer, thanks to support from sponsors like Enbridge.”

Dobrez believes that to diversify STEAM professions, students need access to opportunities from an early age—which is why the celebration is open to middle school students. The event’s aim is ultimately to spark girls’ interest in STEAM professions and to build their confidence.

“We want them to see that they belong in STEAM careers,” Dobrez says.

Event sponsorships ensure the celebration is free for participants. Enbridge contributed a $10,000 Fueling Futures grant to the center this year—and we’ve supported this event since 2019 because we share the Homewood Science Center’s commitment to giving young women more opportunities to learn about STEAM fields.

We believe diverse workforces, like diverse communities, thrive. Success is fueled by different perspectives, experiences, and cultures coming together.

Homewood Science Center’s efforts are working; the celebration was at capacity this year. To make the event accessible for all, there are no academic requirements for the students; anyone who is interested is accepted to attend, as long as there is space.

“Like good engineers, we do a lot of evaluation and testing,” Dobrek says. “We survey students before and after the event to measure our impact and see what resonates with the girls.”

One student, Fatima, recently received a full scholarship to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “After participating at our event and meeting the women mentors, she felt more inspired. She buckled down in her studies . . . and what a success story!” Dobrez says.

The celebration’s successes are both small and large. Not every participant’s story will end like Fatima’s, but there is much to be proud of.

Says Dobrez: “Even if the students’ improvement in STEAM subjects is incremental, if the students are inspired to work harder, if they feel more confident in themselves, those are outcomes worthy of celebration.”