Conference inspires girls to pursue education and careers in STEM

Stephanie Montoya
GEAR UP New Mexico and STEM Santa Fe host event for middle school students interested in science, technology, engineering, and math 

Nearly 100 middle school girls explored college and career options in science, technology, engineering and math during the first-ever GEAR UP New Mexico Girls STEM Pathways Conference in Albuquerque this month.  

Hosted by Gaining Early Awareness in Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP), a federal college and career readiness program housed at the New Mexico Higher Education Department, and STEM Santa Fe, the conference brought students together from school districts across New Mexico to listen to presentations and participate in hands-on activities related to STEM career pathways.  

“Providing opportunities for girls and young women to explore education and career options in STEM is key to helping these students prepare for and enter rewarding professions, many of which exist right here in New Mexico,” Higher Education Secretary Stephanie M. Rodriguez said. “Our colleges and universities offer some of the best STEM education programs in the county, and our state is a leader in technology and innovation. I extend my appreciation to the GEAR UP program, STEM Santa Fe, our higher education partners, and all of those who came together to make this event possible for our students.”  

Students participated in a college fair to learn about the many STEM degree and certificate programs offered at New Mexico public colleges and universities and participated in workshops covering topics from robotics and computer science to physics and biofuels.  

“After attending the STEM conference, I want to study engineering in college and earn a degree,” said Mia Aragon, a 7th grade student at Christine Duncan Heritage Academy in Albuquerque. “My biggest takeaway from the conference is that engineering isn’t really what I thought it was. It is much better, and I hope I can learn more about STEM and how I can work as an engineer.”  

“The importance of what was accomplished at this year’s GEAR UP New Mexico Girls STEM Pathways Conference cannot be emphasized enough. The opportunity for middle school girls to meet and interact with a dynamic network of STEM women professionals committed to making a real impact on the future of STEM education in this state directly supports our mission to provide locally responsive experiences for our underserved populations,” said GEAR UP New Mexico Director Corine Frankland. “The attendees left the conference knowing that they can be STEM explorers and that their passion and creativity is what makes this state amazing!”  

During the women in STEM panel, students interacted with college students and women currently studying and working in STEM. 

“I feel like the panel definitely gave the students a more genuine person-to-person perspective on what it’s like to be in these careers,” New Mexico Highlands University student and panelist Savannah Sanchez said. “I was never able to experience anything like that when I was younger but providing students with this opportunity was amazing and we shared our most personal and vulnerable experiences.” 

Sanchez graduated with her bachelor’s degree in Biology from New Mexico Highlands University this month and will spend the summer conducting research for the Smithsonian in Maryland to explore ecology with different types of trees. She then plans to pursue a master’s degree in biology at the University of New Mexico this fall with hopes of entering a research career. Sanchez is the first person in her family to graduate from college and hopes to inspire younger students to pursue their education and career goals.  

While there have historically been fewer women in STEM careers in New Mexico, almost 60 percent of STEM-H degrees were awarded to women last year. The most awarded degrees by public higher education institutions were in biology, physical sciences, and health sciences. The New Mexico Higher Education Department and GEAR UP New Mexico plan to continue providing opportunities like the Girls STEM Pathways Conference to empower young women to enter STEM fields and fill the state’s workforce in our classrooms and at the national and defense laboratories, bases, and other industries in New Mexico.  

Photos from the conference are available via GEAR UP New Mexico’s Facebook page.