Last week Eastern Michigan University's (EMU) Digital Divas program celebrated its eighth year of encouraging girls to consider STEM careers, and organizer Bia Hamed says it's getting "stronger, better, and bigger."
The biannual program invites high school girls to a day-long conference in April, with a November session targeting middle school girls. The conference features a keynote speaker and choice of two breakout sessions.
Hamed says the program began when EMU computer science professor Skip Lawber noticed there were only a few women in his classroom. He asked female students if they would run some STEM sessions for local high school girls.
"And every year since then, we've grown and grown," Hamed says, noting that the program is free to all. Organizers will even use money from private sponsors including DTE Energy and AT&T to help pay for transportation so that more girls can attend.
About 600 girls from high schools all over southeast Michigan attended this year's high school event on April 13. Approximately 6,000 girls have participated since the program's inception.
"Girls actually outperform boys in elementary school in science and math, but they get intimidated by the lack of good female role models in science," Hamed says.
Digital Divas' goal is to empower girls to change that culture. Professional women from various industries lead 90-minute hands-on breakout sessions on topics ranging from how to fly a drone to how to make your own cosmetics to how to build a mobile app.
This year, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell opened the event, and the keynote speaker was Neetu Seth, president and CEO of Ann Arbor data management company NITS Solutions. Seth earned both her bachelor's degree and her MBA from EMU and came back to inspire the next generation of girls interested in STEM careers.
Hamed says many EMU alumni have returned to give back to the program.
"Several of Skip Lawber's students who have graduated and are working in various fields came back to host breakout sessions," she says, adding that a number of volunteers at this year's events were participants in past Digital Divas programs.
"There was an almost-magical energy in the room," Hamed says of the event. "It has been a great experience."
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at email@example.com.
Photos courtesy of Eastern Michigan University/Debra Burke.