Conference seeks to increase opportunities for women in science

Making polymer bouncy balls, extracting their own DNA to put in necklace charms and playing robot basketball were just a few highlights for the 100 middle school girls at Wichita State Saturday.

It was “Expanding Your Horizons” conference that WSU hosted.

The conference offered the girls and their parents an opportunity for hands-on activities with local science professionals, watch a magic show put on by the Collegiate Chemistry Wizards, learn about preparing for college and win prizes donated by community sponsors.

Event organizer and WSU chemistry professor Moriah Beck said one of the girls even asked for her autograph.

“I’m a science rock star, I felt like,” Beck said.

Beck and other female professors and parents coordinated the event after noticing an absence of similar opportunities in Kansas.

“I had previously attended ‘Expanding Your Horizons’ events when I was in graduate school in Missouri,” Beck said. “We were familiar with it, and we were interested in getting one started here in Wichita. The only other one in Kansas is in Emporia.”

They quickly reached the 100-person registration cap.

“We had really great turnout for our first year,” Beck said.

Each attendant went to three sessions. Professionals from the City of Wichita Air Quality Program, the Kansas Center for Conservation, a veterinarian’s office and more hosted sessions. There were 10 altogether.

“It was a wide variety of things that the girls were involved with, and it was all led by female scientists,” Beck said. “As a woman in a field that doesn’t have very good representation, I think I’m always aware of that. I feel like it’s something I can do something about in small ways.”

Beck has participated in the scientific community for more than a decade and said she hasn’t seen a huge change in the representation of women during that time.

“But there’s definitely more awareness of it,” Beck said. “People are talking about it.”

She hopes to continue bringing the event back every year and to work on improving the diversity of jobs and the number of minority women represented at the conference.

“We want to keep it going, and it seemed like there is strong support to keep it going,” Beck said. “Everybody had a great experience. That’s what we wanted.”