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State Farm to host STEM summit for girls

Girls working at a computer
State Farm
Participants at a State Farm STEM summit in 2017.

Girls in Bloomington-Normal will get the chance to hone their STEM skills through State Farm's Tech Astra summit this fall.

The Oct. 1 event will feature opportunities for participants to design a cell phone holder, build an anemometer, write an algorithm for a driverless car and conduct a space lander mission, where they will transport aliens to the surface of a planet.

Staff director and event chair Nicole Lelm hopes the free conference will help close the STEM gap: In 2019, men outnumbered women nearly three to one in the STEM workforce.

Lelm said that could be caused by several factors.

“It’s intimidating going into a male-dominated workforce. Do they have the comfort to go that route? Do they have the passion to go that route? Do they even understand what opportunities exist kind of in that space? So that’s really what our program is about, just trying to get girls excited and passionate about the STEM-related fields," said Lelm.

New to the summit this year are self-improvement labs. They’re not about the hard skills of science and engineering, but the equally important skills of communication and confidence.

“(The self-improvement labs) are geared around giving these girls a voice, helping build some of that confidence. And you’re going to start to see more and more of that from our Tech Astra program,” said Lelm.

She said the program has been a huge success in the past, noting the feedback proves it.

Girls who participated in the Tech Astra summit said they like the small-group setting, and appreciated getting opportunities to do different things and meet new people with similar interests.

“One of them said, just the opportunity to be with a bunch of girls who have the same passion and get to learn and experiment, they loved,” said Lelm. “They liked having the opportunities, they liked the networking. Each girl came away with something different.

Registration for the event is now open and ends Sept. 10. The summit will be held Oct. 1. The event is free and both in-person and virtual.

Jack Podlesnik is a reporter and announcer at WGLT. He joined the station in 2021.
Sarah Nardi is a WGLT reporter. She previously worked for the Chicago Reader covering Arts & Culture.
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