MASON CITY — Carol Heaverlo, one of the guest speakers at the Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Conference at North Iowa Area Community College Friday, told attendees she was going to show them a picture of what someone working in a STEM field looks like.
She walked around the room carrying a mirror that the 80 female students from North Iowa high schools could see themselves reflected in.
“You all have the ability,” said Heaverlo, outreach program coordinator for Iowa State University’s Program for Women in Science and Engineering.
The conference was organized because women are underrepresented in STEM fields. Women currently fill close to half of all jobs in the U.S. economy, but they hold less than 25 percent of all STEM jobs.
The students who attended the conference heard presentations from women working in a variety of STEM fields, including pathology, engineering, microbiology and veterinary medicine.
“Actuaries are problem-solvers,” said Michelle Rosel, a 2002 NIACC graduate now working as an actuary at the Principal Financial Group in Des Moines. “That’s something I enjoy.”
The keynote speaker for the conference was Teresa Wahlert, director of the Iowa Workforce Development Agency.
The conference also featured a panel of five female college students preparing for STEM fields, including two North Iowans: Chloe Dedic, a Mason City High School graduate who is studying for her doctorate in engineering at ISU, and Leslie Noty, a graduate of Garner-Hayfield and NIACC who is now a graduate student in the pharmacy program at the University of Iowa.
Noty, who earned her undergraduate degree from ISU, said she wasn’t sure she wanted to go into the pharmacy field until she began working at a pharmacy in Ames.
She said her manager there “took me under her wing” and served as a mentor to her.
Dedic said when she was a freshman at ISU she was part of a learning community of other female students interested in STEM fields.
“Our mentors were actually second-year students,” she said.
In addition to the importance of mentors, the college students stressed the importance of internships.
Dedic, who plans to either become a professor or work in an energy research lab, said she got an internship with a construction company that builds power plants.
“All of the speakers were really helpful,” said Paige Salz, a junior at St. Ansgar High School.
She said the session on civil engineering was particularly helpful because she wants to be an architect.
Olivia Busbee, also a junior at St. Ansgar, said having a chance to talk to so many women who have been succesful in their careers was “kind of inspiring.”