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SIOUX CITY | East Middle School eighth-grader Kiahna Jenkins attended the Young Women Investigating Science and Mathematics (WINGS) Conference Friday, led by her interest in math.

But what Jenkins found at the all-girls STEM conference at Morningside College was a newfound interest in a possible nursing career.

“I really enjoyed working with the nursing station and learning about the medicine,” she said.

The 27th WINGS Conference, attended by 280 eighth-grade girls from the tri-state region, showed the various career possibilities and practices involved in STEM.

Attendees participated in a number of hands-on activities, including forensic testing, analyzing animals through the eyes of a veterinarian and conducting chemistry experiments.

WINGS committee co-chair and career counselor at Morningside Stacie Hays said the conference helps young women identify possible career paths through STEM. Since its inception, Hays said options have increased and STEM now gives students the chance to practice hobbies and interests through the lens of science and math.

“This provides a foundation for them to start thinking about what they want to do,” she said. “They can get involved with clubs and groups, and take classes that get them more exposure to those areas.”

She said the conference was open to eighth-grade girls to allow them to expand on subjects that interest them, while encouraging them to follow their ambitions.

“About 27 years ago and now, some STEM careers are in fields that are not traditionally held by women,” she said. “These are occupations we want you to see yourself in, but also to say to a student, “Here’s a role model that is a woman and is successful in this field.’”

Encouragement from women who have succeeded in a STEM field was a central part of Friday’s conference, Hays said. And keynote speaker Barb Goodman, a physiology professor at the University of South Dakota, strived to echo those words.

“I figured it would be interesting to them to hear my story how I became a scientist,” she said, “so they can figure out that a plain old normal girl can be a scientist.”

East Middle School eighth-grader Teagan Hays said the chance to hear from women who have found success has encouraged her that anything is possible.

“There are a lot of options for us as students,” she said.

Jenkins agreed, and said personal stories have helped talk off some of the pressure of deciding which career fits best.

“It’s good to hear how they got started and how they jumped back and forth between jobs depending on what they were good at.”

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