USF Sarasota-Manatee sponsors STEM summit for middle-school girls

Special to the HeraldMay 17, 2013 

Sunita Lodwig has seen her fair share of innovative technologies and turbulent changes within cutting edge industries.

For her, it was often a lonely view from the inside.

Her career at AT&T and Motorola companies gave her a front-row seat to the technological advances -- and a first-person perspective on the absence of women in her field.

Both helped spawn her ambitions to ensure that her gender become more empowered in fields once limited to

men, ultimately leading to an annual Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Summit for middle-school girls in Manatee and Sarasota counties.

"I can recall a few incidents where I felt excluded by men and it was blatant," Lodwig said. "The women in the company formed groups and we supported each other, even when the percentage of promotions of men and women were so different."

Lodwig, who holds a doctorate degree, went on to become a professor at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee. She began the local STEM program that is designed to encourage middle-school girls to get involved in the four fields.

The USF Sarasota-Manatee campus will host its fourth- annual STEM Summit on Saturday. The summit is free and open to all middle-school girls in Manatee and Sarasota counties. The day-long program will offer the girls an opportunity to research and explore the four core fields.

"We're emphasizing the summit toward girls because history has shown that girls are less attracted to math and science," said Ruth Lando, director of communications and marketing at USF Sarasota-Manatee. "We want to get them excited about these fields."

As many as 200 girls are expected to participate in workshops that focus on advances in technology, scientific experiments, and a mini-robots demonstration.

Lodwig, an Information Technology instructor at USF for the past seven years, said the local girls who attend the summit have already expressed an interest in the targeted fields. The summit simply serves to encourage them to pursue their passions and complete their goals.

"These girls have passion for fields in science, technology, math, all the fields that boys usually pursue," Lodwig said. "What the summit is doing is motivating these girls to pursue their dreams. This year we're offering a mentorship program to the girls where they'll be able to speak to the facilitators in their respective fields and make connections."

Justin Devine, a teacher at Nolan Middle School, conducts his own STEM summer camp because there is a high demand and vast opportunities for young people entering those fields.

"Careers in STEM make up the fastest-growing job market of today, and I don't see this trend slowing down," Devine said.

The STEM program runs from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday at the campus. To register, go to http://www.usfsm.edu/stem/

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