“Expanding Your Horizons” – An Engaging Opportunity for Middle and High School Girls in STEM Career Exploration

By Alison Hutchinson

As someone who has worked in K-16 education I am excited about helping students explore their passions and interests. I first started out in the TRiO program, Educational Talent Search. As grants tend to do, it ended and I was hired to another grant at my university with a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) focus.

As part of this new grant I have the pleasure of exposing students to the possibilities STEM careers and the satisfaction they can bring by fulfilling interests, financial stability and sense of achievement. New to the STEM world, I was introduced to many eye-opening facts, such as:

  • In the past 10 years, growth in STEM jobs has been three times greater than non-STEM jobs.

  • In the next decade, almost all of the fastest-growing jobs will require STEM skills.

  • In 2011 only 30% of U.S. high school graduates were ready for college work in sciences.

  • Out of every 100 9th graders, only six graduate from college with STEM degrees.

One of the goals of the grant is to increase STEM access and student success in our region both in secondary and post-secondary education. As I researched programs and events I came upon the national organization “Expanding Your Horizons” (EYH).

The Expanding Your Horizons mission is to encourage young women to continue to take math and science courses during their high school years. By so doing, they will keep their options open if they decide to pursue STEM careers after high school graduation. EYH programs provide STEM role models and hands-on activities for middle and high school girls. The ultimate goal is to motivate girls to become innovative and creative thinkers ready to meet 21st century challenges. EYH programs are developed based on the following assumptions:

  1. In order to increase the participation of women in math, science and engineering careers, there must be an increase in the pool of qualified women.

  2. In order for young women to have the option to enter STEM careers and prepare for them in college, they need to take the appropriate math and science courses in high school.

  3. Since math is the basis for virtually all STEM careers, intervention strategies are needed that increase the participation in math by nurturing enjoyment and confidence in math, by connecting the value of math to career opportunities, by providing career role models, and by actively encouraging girls to persevere in math coursework.

I contacted another host organization in my state and asked to attend their conference. I left the conference inspired and thinking to myself “I wish I’d had an experience like this in high school.” When I returned to work I began collecting resources and people to form a planning committee. Hosting such an event takes a great deal of commitment, community partners and funding. Once this is established, an engaging and motivating day is held for hundreds of middle or high school girls. Each organization that chooses to host the event will decide on the number of girls to invite and how many presenters will participate. The breakdown of the “Expanding Your Horizons” event at Heritage University was as follows:

  • 12 school districts of 7th and 8th grade middle school girls for a total of 200 girls

  • 18 female professional women in STEM careers presented three workshops the day of the event

  • We invited national award-winning engineer Celeste Baine to be the keynote speaker.

The agenda for the day:

8:15 am-9:30 am Registration

9:30-10:00 am Keynote Speaker

10:00-10:50 am 1st Session

11:00-11:50 am 2nd Session

11:55-12:30 pm Lunch

12:35-1:25 pm 3rd Session

1:30-1:50 pm Ice Cream Social/Closing

1:50-2:00 Departure

The feedback we got from students and presenters was overwhelmingly positive and over 90% of our students and presenters want to return next year. Anecdotally, the day was so powerful to see 200 girls walking around a university campus wearing their EYH t-shirts and hearing them say things like “I’m going to change my major after that microbiology workshop!” I am already looking forward to next year and the possibility of offering a Heritage University scholarship to the girls who attend!

Career development practitioners are encouraged to use this example to support STEM efforts in your area. For more information on becoming a conference coordinator: http://www.expandingyourhorizons.org/coordinators.html



Alison HutchisonAlison Hutchinson, M.Ed. is an academic and career advisor as part of a Title V Grant at Heritage University working with college and high school students with partnering school districts. A candidate for the Global Career Development Facilitator certification, she holds a Master’s degree in Counseling from Heritage University and a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Central Washington University. She may be contacted at 509-865-8539 or Hutchinson_a@heritage.edu


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Kathy Meyer   on Friday 08/02/2013 at 12:06 PM

Congrats on creating and implementing this successful program Alison!!

Dawn Colavita   on Monday 08/05/2013 at 09:50 AM

This is exciting. Have you ever thought that you could expand your reach by offering these kinds of experiences to girls all over the US through videoconferencing?

If you are interested, please contact me.
Dawn Colavita
Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration (CILC)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.