San Diego Nonprofit Supports Young Women Pursuing Careers in STEM

March 18, 2024

Expanding Your Horizons of San Diego, a nonprofit, is helping young women and girls pursue successful careers in STEM fields. STEM—short for science, technology, engineering and math— is applicable across a wide range of potential careers where demand for capable workers is already high and only growing.

Executive Director Liz Ferguson says there are significantly less women than men working in STEM fields. Her organization is committed to changing that.

“The workforce is generally about 50% women but I think the latest figures show that STEM fields are only about 26% women. That number hasn’t really changed much over the past ten years or so. This is an important metric for us and it acts as a guideline for what we’re doing,” she explains.

a group of students working on a project

EYH provides hands-on programming for young women so they can get a chance to explore STEM activities in a fun and engaging way.

Addressing the Gap

Expanding Your Horizons of San Diego provides workshops, events, and conferences to showcase STEM careers to young women and girls at an important time in their lives.

“We want to support and engage with young women at an age when they are deciding what career path they want to pursue. We focus our programming on the sixth grade to college levels,” Ferguson says.

Expanding Your Horizons began as a series of conferences around the United States, but organizers in San Diego decided they wanted to make their local chapter a nonprofit. 

“We’re unique in that we have our own nonprofit status and a long-standing conference that started in 2002. Expanding beyond the conference and becoming a nonprofit organization allowed us to reach young women beyond tenth grade,” she says.

Liz says that their programs are designed with different age groups in mind so that they can continue to engage with young women well into their post-secondary education.

A group of students around a table participating in an activity.

EYH’s annual conference involves group activities so participants can get interactive.

Acknowledging the Barriers

It’s one thing to address the gaps by engaging with women, but it’s another to research and understand what the barriers women are facing actually when it comes to pursuing a career in STEM. 

“Research has generally shown that women leave the path to a career in STEM between sixth and tenth grade. This happens because of a few reasons. One being that young women and girls are very much influenced by other women. Peer and mentorship role models are important to them at that age and because there aren’t a lot of women in STEM careers, they can’t see themselves in those careers,” Liz says.

Sometimes, barriers exist in the way that education for these careers has evolved.

“Women are generally more communicative and scientific careers tend to be all about following directions. Young women tend to respond more to communal learning and hands-on experiences where it’s all about showing you how to do things,” she explains.

An instructor chatting with a student in the program.

EYH focuses on programming for young women who are in school, from sixth to tenth grade.

Bringing Young Women Together

Realizing that the way information is presented may result in more young women entering science, technology, engineering, and math careers, Expanding Your Horizons hosts an annual conference with opportunities to learn from other women.

“The conference is really about excitement and engagement,” Liz says.

The annual conference is for girls in grades six to ten and features a series of group workshops that both connect attendees with a mentor and provide hands-on STEM-related activities.

While the conference and much of what Expanding Your Horizons does is aimed at young women who are in school, Liz says women in the workforce also face challenges when changing careers.

“I think that there’s not enough opportunities for women who are already in the workforce. They no longer have the time to really experiment with what they want to do because they have bills to pay, a house, maybe some kids. They have to find opportunities that can fit within their lifestyle at their age,” Liz says.

Regardless of age, Liz says that there are many benefits to working in STEM like higher wages and being a role model to young people.

Students looking at their computer screens

STEM encompasses careers and fields of study within science, technology, engineering, and math.

Keeping These Programs Accessible

Recently, Pattern Energy contributed $5,000 to Expanding Your Horizons of San Diego.

Due to the increasing costs of running their programming, Liz says the donation came at the right time.

“We saw a 50% increase in some of our major costs. We were almost in the position where we would have to decrease the number of girls who can attend the conference. There’s a small fee to attend but we also have the option for attendees to request a waiver of the fee. Historically, 60 to 70% of girls who want to attend request a waiver. Not only is the donation from Pattern Energy helping to make the conference more accessible, it also helps us to be able to increase the number of girls who can attend,” Liz says.

Expanding Your Horizons also arranges bus transportation to the conference for girls in other districts who wouldn’t otherwise have a ride to the event.

“We’re incredibly grateful to Pattern Energy for their donation and we thank them for their faith in our program and what we’re doing,” she says.

A campus with many students hanging out on the grounds in matching T-shirts.