Grade 7 and 8 girls explore career options at Durham College’s Young Women in Science, Technology and Trades Conference

From building bird houses to learning the science behind slime, hundreds of local girls had a blast exploring careers in science, tech and skilled trades at Durham College (DC).

Hosted on April 25 and 26 at DC’s Oshawa and Whitby campuses, the Young Women in Science, Technology and Trades Conference (YWSTT) included inspiration from both keynote speaker Promise Lafrance and hands-on exploration in a series of workshops for Grade 7 and 8 girls.

At the Whitby campus, the girls were welcomed by Rebecca Milburn, Executive Dean for the Faculties of Skilled Trades and Apprenticeship and Hospitality and Horticultural Science and the interim Executive Dean for the Faculty of Science, Engineering and Information Technology.

“There are so many opportunities available to you in science, technology and skilled trades and we are here to help you explore them,” she said. “Whether it is learning about a new field or career path, trying your hand at something new or even picturing yourself in a career you may never have even thought of before, today’s event is designed to show you the possibilities for your future.”

Leah Mollon, a Grade 8 student from Lindsay, Ontario, enjoyed workshops like Candy Chromatography where students used saltwater to separate colours on Skittles candy in DC’s biotechnology lab.

She also built circuits in a workshop presented by Ontario Power Generation (OPG) employees. OPG was one of a dozen sponsors supporting the event.

“I’m considering the trades quite a bit,” said Leah. “I’m still quite young and trying to figure out what I want to do, but the trades, I want to test them out.”

Sarah Kraemer, also a Grade 8 student from Lindsay, enjoyed trying on gear that OPG workers use to protect themselves from radiation.

She said she’s interested in a career related to neuroscience and said she loved exploring at the YWSTT Conference.

“I feel it’s really good at erasing the stigma around women in science and the trades,” said Sarah, adding that she’s attended two other similar events. “It’s really helpful in introducing people to new opportunities that you never knew existed.”

That’s a key message for Angie Dickinson, a control tech at OPG and an electrician by trade. She is also a DC alum who graduated in 2006.

Dickinson explained that she’s been a pioneer through her 25-year career and wants share the message that there are excellent careers in the skilled trades for women.

“At OPG we are trying to talk to the young women about the trades, so we’re trying to introduce to them that this a viable way to make a living, that it’s a very good way to make money in a non-traditional way.”

The girls heard directly from women in the trades in the OPG workshops and learned about building circuits and testing torque on nuts and bolts.

If the girls successfully completed their circuit kits, they lit up or played sounds like a few bars of “Happy Birthday”.

DC laboratory technician Andrea Colagiacomo ran a popular workshop on making slime and taught the chemistry behind it.

“So the Elmer’s glue contains long chains of polymers when it reacts with the contact lens solution and the baking soda, it creates crosslinking which turns the liquid glue into a non-Newtonian liquid,” she quickly explained.

In other words, the chemical reaction creates something that is neither a solid or liquid but it’s a lot of fun to mash up and play with.

In the workshop, the girls experimented with the consistency of their slime, as well as the appearance by adding glitter and food colouring.

Colagiacomo said her main goal was making sure the girls who attended her workshop had fun and learned something.

“I think conferences like this help to give some clarity to young girls as to which path they want to take and we’re all big science nerds and we’re all encouraging them,” she said.

Lily Streten, a Grade 7 student from Ajax, said she liked learning the science behind slime.

“I think it’s pretty cool because now I understand how it’s made and I can go home and impress my family with it,” she said, adding she also enjoyed the sessions on robotics and learning how to dismantle a furnace.

And her future plans?

“I think I want to be a gym teacher, I’ll see what I get into when I’m older, but the welding sounded really fun too.”

Considering a career in science, tech or the trades? Start exploring at DC!