The Hylton Performing Arts Center at George Mason University’s Science and Technology Campus is normally bustling with performances from local, national, and international artists. On October 1, the venue was filled with a different kind of energy.
Nearly 400 girls and women interested in science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) gathered to participate in Girls’ Tech Day Virginia, hosted by Amazon Web Services (AWS). The initiative, in partnership with the Prince William County Public Schools Education Foundation (SPARK), as well as other local organizations, aims to inspire school-aged girls and young women to pursue careers in STEAM.
The event offered panels and workshops with Mason faculty and STEAM professionals. Workshops included “Who’s the Artist? Engineer or Machine” and “The Real CSI,” the latter offering a dive into what it is like to be a forensic scientist turning the Merchant Hall stage into a mock crime scene.
The event also gave attendees opportunities to build coding experience and included professional development with resume building and complimentary headshots.
“I was thrilled to have the opportunity to engage with the talented young ladies who participated in the AWS Girls’ Tech Day,” said Kelly Knight, associate professor of forensic science at Mason and facilitator of “The Real CSI” workshop. “As I looked out into the audience and saw the excitement in their eyes, I couldn’t help but think about how meaningful an event like this would have been to me as a young girl.”
Since 2018, Girls’ Tech Day has reached nearly 7,000 girls and young women ages 8-24 to motivate, excite, and inspire them to pursue careers in STEAM. A free program, the first Girls’ Tech Day took place at the Hylton Performing Arts Center in partnership with AWS, who also supports the Hylton Center’s Education Initiative and other programs. Ongoing support from AWS helps make arts accessible to local students and schools at the Hylton Center and throughout local communities.
“We were excited to host this event in collaboration with the Hylton Center to support students in Prince William County, building on our ongoing efforts to bring STEAM education opportunities to young learners,” said Cornelia Robinson, global lead of inclusion and outreach for AWS. “Women represent a quarter or less of workers in computing and engineering, and we want to do our part to inspire and support students and young women in the communities we call home.”
Girls’ Tech Day is just one part of a collection of initiatives AWS is leading to promote STEAM education in Virginia. In 2019, Prince William County opened the first AWS Think Big Space to further promote and cultivate an interest in STEAM disciplines through hands-on learning. Since then, AWS has funded 38 spaces globally and is looking to establish even more in Northern Virginia.
“The Hylton Center Education Initiative is 100% supported by philanthropy,” said Hylton Center Education Coordinator Marit Majeske. “The lead sponsorship of AWS enables the Hylton Center to reach students from early elementary to lifelong learners with in-person field trips, virtual field trips, master classes, lecture demonstrations, and residencies. We are grateful for their support of our goal to bring the arts to students in our community.”
Connecting with students at an early age is especially meaningful for Knight.
“When I was their age, there weren’t many events that were not only created for girls but that were also free, and I think that’s an important point,” she said. “It’s wonderful to have STEAM outreach programs, but if they aren’t accessible, we are missing the point. Programs such as this allow girls to not only see the possibilities but to also remind them that they belong in STEAM regardless of their background.”
Learn more about AWS Girls’ Tech Day.
This article first appeared in GMU News on November 14, 2022: https://www.gmu.edu/news/2022-11/aws-girls-tech-day-virginia-hylton-center-inspires-nearly-400-girls-and-young-women