Hundreds of girls streamed toward the booths, clamoring for the chance to build with Legos, fly drones, and create with chemistry. Others learned about CAD programming and spun in circles as they experienced virtual reality.
It’s exactly the scene Denna Mensch had in mind during the planning of Girls’ STEAM Night Out, held for the first time at Mauldin High School on Aug. 31. Mensch, vice president of technology solutions marketing at SYNNEX Corp., said the company’s leadership is dedicated to promoting STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) and the careers available in those fields.
“We started thinking, ‘What can we do to create more awareness for parents, students, and schools?’” Mensch said.
In addition to building a diverse and skilled workforce, “We want to invest in girls. We want them to think differently about the career choices they have and make it fun for them.”
Fun was the name of the game at the event. One group crowded around a photo booth, taking pictures, and then crowded around a laptop to see the photo manipulated on the screen.
Caroline Gantt, a seventh-grader at Mauldin Middle School, was checking out the drones and said she came to see “lots of cool technology.” With an interest in animation, she was drawn to the booths that blended art and technology, such as web design and 3D printing.
The event began to take shape when Cherie McCain, a manager at BMW, spoke with Mensch about STEAM support for girls. The Greenville Health System, Roper Mountain Science Center, and Mauldin High School’s Flash robotics team soon came on board and a committee was formed.
With minimal advertising, turnout expectations were between 100 and 200 participants, but 330 had preregistered by the day of the event.
In opening remarks before a packed auditorium, Rowan Brown, a junior at the Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities, told the girls in the crowd how designing and communicating about Lego robotics led to an interest in fiction and poetry, and how the arts and sciences are linked.
“It is revolutionary for a woman to make a career out of art or science,” she said. “I fully expect each young woman in this room to try their hardest to be this generation’s revolutionaries.”
Meghan Walters, a fifth-grader at Green Charter School, said she was inspired by her career options as she waited patiently for a chance to build a balloon-powered car using a water bottle. She had just checked out the virtual reality booth and the drones. “Those were really cool,” she said.
Her mother, Tammy Walters, said Meghan had brought a flyer home from school and “was super excited to be here,” she said. “It’s nice that there’s a program like this that tells them that it’s okay to be whatever you want to be. The sky’s the limit for girls today.”
The female focus fits with the mission of F2F, a community of women in technology careers at SYNNEX and its resellers and partners around the country. F2F — which stands for friend-to-friend, face-to-face, and female-to-female — works to unite women in the IT industry, offering networking, mentoring, philanthropy, and education.
“It’s a more male-dominated field, so it’s a way to reach out to associates, vendor partners, and the reseller community and get to know each other,” Mensch said.
McCain, a manager in BMW’s engineering department, also has a passion for inspiring young women, having worked with more than 1,500 girls in the past five years promoting automotive careers. “We invite middle school girls to come spend a day with us, tour and learn,” she said.
She was standing with her team at a booth full of cups, pens, candy, and other prizes. Girls clustered around the prize table, but were told they had to ask a question to earn a prize. “We want to get them talking,” McCain said.
Several girls stood in silence for several seconds, considering possible questions, when one asked, “How do you make your engines?”