Burnaby students host conference to get girls into STEM careers

Burnaby South Grade 12 student Mindy Lin wants to follow in her mother’s footsteps and become an engineer.

Her mom doesn’t want her to.

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Why?

Her mom says it’s a lot harder for a woman to succeed in the field than a man, and she’d prefer her bright young daughter to pick a career that will give her an equal chance at success.

“I kind of understand the way she thinks,” Lin said, “but I really like engineering.”

Lin knows she’s not alone in facing such obstacles, so she has teamed up with four other local female students (Jenny Wang from Moscrop, Tina Borcanin from Burnaby North, Maya Unadkat from Burnaby Central and Angela Yu from Burnaby Mountain) to put on a conference designed to empower girls to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers.

“Through this conference we really want to encourage girls to go down this pathway and then to actually explore those careers,” Lin said.

Called Quantum Leaps, the free March 28 conference at UBC is being sponsored by Burnaby Neighbourhood House and the Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology and will feature workshops in different fields, and female speakers and panelists talking about their career paths.

The event has two main goals, according to Lin – to empower girls who lack the confidence to go into traditionally male-dominated fields and to support girls who know they can do it but face family or other obstacles.

Lin counts herself among the second group.

She said she believes her parents’ views are based on their own experiences and generation, and that things have changed.

But that’s not to say Lin thinks the gender bias in the STEM areas has disappeared.

She said organizers of a math camp she attended this summer, for example, said the mix of boys and girls was a lot more even than in previous years, but it was still only about two to one.

In her Grade 12 physics class this year, it’s about four to one.

“I think it’s way better than before, but I think definitely it still exists,” Lin said.

The small band of local Quantum Leaps conference organizers originally planned to hold the event at SFU Burnaby, but Westcoast Women in Engineering, Science and Technology stepped up to cover costs at UBC’s Macleod Building.

“Since a lot of our audience is most likely going to apply to UBC for their higher education, we’ve decided that having the event set at that university is a good way to familiarize the girls with the campus,” said Yu, who is in Grade 11 at Burnaby Mountain. The event is for female Burnaby students in grades 11 and 12.

One of the conference’s three speakers will be Burnaby South grad Dr. Poh Tan, a stem-cell expert and founder of Innoguidance Consulting, a firm that advises companies around the world on how best to apply their technology in the stem-cell field.

For more information or to register for the Quantum Leaps conference, visit quantumleapsbby.wordpress.com.

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