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Minnesota State University, Mankato
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Stirring up interest in STEM

Event allowed high school girls to explore careers in STEM fields.

Trey Mewes, Mankato Free Press, 10-2-2015

Not everybody wants to work with the dead when they grow up.

Yet Mankato West High School junior Elizabeth Haigh thinks it might be cool to become a coroner after college. She’s interested in anatomy, and she couldn’t wait to check out a demonstration on how muscles work Thursday during Minnesota State University, Mankato’s Girls Explore STEM event.

“I think it’d be something I would really enjoy,” she said. “It’s interesting, not to a lot of people, but to me.” Haigh was among more than 200 high school girls from area districts to attend Minnesota State Mankato’s second annual event focusing on science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers.

The university hosts STEM events in part to raise interest in science jobs among young women.

Women are underrepresented in many sciencerelated industries. About 26 percent of computing workers were female in 2013, according to a study published this year by the American Association of University Women. Women only made up about 12 percent of engineers in 2013 as well.

“We want to make sure to talk about STEM careers before there’s a lack of confidence, before there’s a lack of interest,” said Jessica Flatequal, Minnesota State Mankato director of gender and sexuality studies. “We want to make sure STEM is cool. We want to make sure girls see STEM fields as being cool.”

There were plenty of cool science projects and demonstrations on display inside the Centennial Student Union Ballroom, from a demonstration on how quick sand works to a hands-on display of how electricity runs through our bodies.

Yet majoring in science can be difficult for students regardless of gender.

Careers in science are often rewarding despite the academic and, at times, workplace obstacles women must overcome, or so Jessica Smasal of Verizon Wireless told students.

Smasal, the event’s keynote speaker and a Minnesota State Mankato alumna, emphasized to area high schoolers one key message: Stick with it.

“It’s worth it to stick with it, and if you have that interest, don’t sell yourself short,” Smasal said.

Minnesota State Mankato students also offered encouraging words to high schoolers with an interest in science. Senior Ka Xiong, a biomedical sciences major, was glad to share her love of science and how muscles work with as many students as possible.

“Science is awesome,” she said with a laugh.

High schoolers also listened to industry-related panels during lunch and took campus tours Thursday afternoon.

Students such as Mankato West sophomore Grace Mickelson were happy for the opportunity to learn about STEM. Mickelson has always enjoyed math and science, and she’s currently interested in pursuing chemistry after high school.

The entire version of this story can be read in a print copy of the Mankato Free Press. Call the Mankato Free Press at 625-4451 or (800) 657-4662 to find out how to purchase a print copy. The Free Press also prints select stories online at

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