CIQS Day and Miami faculty empower young women to prepare for STEM fields

Written by Katy O'Neill, CAS communications intern

On Tuesday, January 9, the College of Arts and Science and the College of Education, Health and Society hosted the 4th annual CIQS (Careers Involving Quantitative Skills) Day for 72 young women from 5 regional high schools.

CIQS Day invites young women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—or STEM fields—to visit Miami's campus, interact with STEM faculty, meet students with similar interests, and participate in department-based activities and lectures.

A CIQS participant has a close encounter of the heron kind in the Hefner Museum of Natural History.

The day is coordinated by lecturer of statistics Lynette Hudiburgh. Along with fellow Miami professors, students, and alumni, Hudiburgh uses CIQS Day to encourage the young guests to pursue their interests in STEM despite the underrepresentation of women in the quantitative fields.

"Students feel empowered by this day because we give them such great role models," said Hudiburgh. "Our faculty are leaders in their fields, so students can see that they too can do it."

CIQS Day kicked off at 8:30 am with registration. The young women were mixed together from different schools in an effort to simulate what it is like to come to college and foster new relationships.

"I love seeing students, who didn't know each other before, interact and create groups where they laugh and ask good questions," said Hudiburgh. "You can tell that they are really excited to be here and learn new things, having an opportunity to think about different career paths that may not have been known to them before the day."

Sherrill Sellers, a professor in the Department of Family Studies and Social Work, gave an opening address to the group with the simple message, "Write your own story. And remember, you are good enough."

"Do not let someone else define what you are capable of," Sellers told the eager students. "Find and use your voice. Love yourself enough to realize you are unique—your perspective is valuable and very much needed, now more than ever."

Miami graduate student assists a CIQS participant in the Global Information Systems lab.

"Her talk was very powerful," said Jackie Ramirez, a junior at Hamilton High School. "It really made me think, and I liked that."

The students attended three 45-minute sessions out of over 14 during the morning. Taught by Miami professors, the sessions ranged from Facebook data analytics to mapping for disaster relief to facial profiling.

Hudiburgh explained that the students do not have the opportunity to pick their sessions, which are randomly assigned to expand their knowledge and interests. This also gives the students the opportunity to share their different experiences with their schoolmates on the bus ride home at the end of the day.

"I really liked the zoology session ['Nature in Your Own Backyards'] because I like animals," said Hadiza Ali, a junior at Winton Woods High School. "We were learning about fossils and rocks, and I learned more from what I already knew."

Overall, the day taught her that "women as a whole should try harder to give other women a voice."

"I really liked the session called ‘The Psychology Behind Math and Self-Efficacy,' because it opened my mind to different options, not just staying in a certain place, and not being scared to try new things," said Talawanda junior Tashay Pearson. "Another, 'Big Data Analytics and Its Applications,' isn't something that people often choose, so it made me think about choosing other options that are unusual."

"It is a great big world out there with so many interesting things to do, so go for what you want and don't settle," Hudiburgh told the participants. "Keep searching until you find what you want to do. Explore a lot, but find what fits."

After their three sessions, lunch was provided in the Armstrong Pavilion, allowing the young women time to socialize with faculty, Miami students, and each other.

CIQS Day ended with the 'Women in Industry' panel, featuring 4 women from different STEM professions. They served as role models to present an idea of what lay ahead after high school and college in the STEM fields.

"Being able to talk to young women and influence their decisions and paths is my favorite part of the day," said Leanne Olshavsky, a Miami alum and panelist. Olshavsky discussed her experiences as associate medical director for women's health and the medical director at the new family birthing center at The Christ Hospital Medical Center in Liberty Township.

Several CIQS participants pose with their graduate student instructor.

Another panelist, Mercer School principal Gretchen Williams, said, "I hope the women take away an understanding of all of the opportunities that are out there that they may not have heard of before." She shared her experiences as a retirement actuary and as a female in the math field.

"I hope we raise awareness of the breadth of opportunities that are available, since it is never too early to think about it," said Rhonda Szczesniak, another panelist and associate professor of pediatrics at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center and the University of Cincinnati. "Nowadays, where academia and industry blend a lot more, there are many opportunities to start internships or projects in a summer term. A takeaway is to seek out those opportunities if they hear something about an area that they may be interested in."

"All of us want to encourage women to never be defined by gender roles," added Olshavsky. "Don't pick a career based on that, of all things."

Olshavsky, Szczesniak, and Williams agreed that they would have benefitted from hearing women in the industry speak when they were students in high school or college.

The fourth panelist, Miami alum Sandy Steiger, discussed her experience as a female studying statistics and mathematics and later pursuing quantitative roles. Steiger is the vice president of insights at 84.51°, a business development service in Cincinnati.

By the end of CIQS Day, 72 high school women returned home feeling empowered and hopeful for their futures in STEM professions. Hudiburgh acknowledged the help she had received from over 30 Miami faculty members, students, and alumni to make the event a success.

"They are willing to give up their time and spend the day preparing activities, talking to students, escorting students, or helping with background work and recruiting women," she said. "I love the fact that we've come together to create such an impactful day, in ways that—individually— none of us could."

CIQS Day was supported by the Sonia Kovalevsky Fund and sponsored by the Miami University Department of Statistics and StatHawks.