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Women in Science Inspire

Updated: Sep 30, 2020

From left to right: Peggy Milz, Dana Stephens, Dawn Kernagis, Diane Fraser, Lisa Hughey, and Camille Miles. Photo credit: Jacie Chandler

The Emerald Coast Science Center held its Second Annual Women in Science Conference at Northwest Florida State College on September 28. The evening consisted of compelling speeches from six women in our area that are involved in the STEM industry. With the Second Annual Women in Science Conference, the Emerald Coast Science Center hopes to encourage and inspire young women to pursue and succeed in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields. A vast array of STEM careers were represented--crime scene technology, aircraft engineering, environmental studies, human performance research, and more. Each speaker made her own expertise and passion for her field clear in her message, inspiring the audience.

Pictured: Dana Stephens. Photo credit: Jacie Chandler

Our evening commenced with Dana Stephens, Director of the Mattie M. Kelly Environmental Institute (MKEI) at Northwest Florida State College. Stephens spoke about the importance of trying many different paths to find out what a person enjoys doing most in life and how persistence and finding support from teammates and coworkers are critical aspects of how she continues to find inspiration in her career.

Pictured: Peggy Milz. Photo credit: Jacie Chandler

Peggy Milz, Aircraft Modification Quality Manager with BAE Systems, absolutely wowed the audience when she discussed the amazing work she does with BAE--including her hand in building the world's largest airplane, the Stratolaunch, which has an impressive 385 foot wingspan, and is designed to carry rockets holding satellites into the stratosphere before being fired into space. Milz also noted the importance of being involved in the community and groups across the country that help keep her motivated.

Pictured: Camille Miles with her mother, Clara. Photo credit: Jacie Chandler

The Women in Science Conference also includes brief speeches from local students, including Camille Miles. Miles spoke passionately about how science fair helped spark her love for STEM. As a senior at Niceville High School, she recently won the 2017 State Science and Engineering Fair Best-in-Fair Grand Award on a national level. She also spoke of a group she recently created of fellow young women interested in STEM, called WISHES.

Pictured: Lisa Hughey. Photo credit: Jacie Chandler

After a brief intermission for guests to mingle and network with various local STEM representatives, Lisa Hughey took to the podium to discuss the fascinating ways STEM is involved in her career as a crime scene technician for the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office. From the various tools she uses to calculate angles from blood spatter patterns to how fingerprints are collected, Hughey made it clear that a wealth of STEM education is a part of her daily work. She also discussed that a vast majority of the coworkers in her department are female and accredits that to the need to be extremely organized in her line of work.

Pictured: Dawn Kernagis. Photo credit: Jacie Chandler

Dawn Kernagis, a Research Scientist at the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in Pensacola regaled the audience with her start in STEM back when she was 15 and began scuba diving. She tried her hand at various STEM studies before deciding it was important for her to figure out the various impacts diving at different depths had on human health and why. Dawn was even a part of a NASA research project (NEEMO) that involved living in an underwater research station for several weeks. With a long list of impressive upcoming projects, Kernagis's enthusiasm for her work was reinforced by her message that when a person does what they love, it doesn't really feel like work.

The final student speaker, Caroline Schreck, a sophomore at UCLA, actually could not make our rescheduled conference date after postponement due to Hurricane Irma as she had to return from her native Niceville to California. She was still with us in spirit--and on DVD--where she shared her message about how the world around her has continued to inspire her to study the environment and how she can protect it. She ended her speech by stating that science can be so many things, and whatever a person ends up wanting to do in this field, it is worth it.

Photo credit: Jacie Chandler

One thing was abundantly clear after hearing all our speaker's inspirational messages--passion and drive comes in many forms and many different fields. Our educational staff enjoyed hands-on activities with the students at our conference, showing them how to make their own LED flashlights as just one example of how much fun can be had with STEM. We hope to carry this message on with our Girls Engaged in Making (GEM) Workshops beginning in October.

Pictured: Diane Fraser. Photo credit: Jacie Chandler

Our evening concluded with a message from our Director, Diane, reinforcing the importance of keeping young women involved in STEM. She ended the night with a poignant quote from Grace Hopper, "A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for." Thank you so much to all our wonderful sponsors, speakers, and audience members for making the Second Annual Women in Science Conference an absolute success. Women in Science will continue to inspire, year after year.

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