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Strategic Innovation Fund winner brings young women into STEM fields

Karlie+Hornberger+%28left%29+and+Maureen+Mikkelsen+%28right%29+worked+together+on+a+project+to+get+more+girls+interested+in+STEM.
Karlie Hornberger (left) and Maureen Mikkelsen (right) worked together on a project to get more girls interested in STEM.

Karlie Hornberger (left) and Maureen Mikkelsen (right) worked together on a project to get more girls interested in STEM.

Karlie Hornberger (left) and Maureen Mikkelsen (right) worked together on a project to get more girls interested in STEM.

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A sophomore in the College of Engineering received a 2016 Strategic Innovation Fund Award for her project that sends members of the Marquette Society of Women Engineers to tutor middle school students.

Karlie Hornberger’s project addresses the lack of young women interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, by providing students with successful female role models. The fund is run through Marquette’s Office of Research and Innovation and provides money for awardees to develop their projects.

Hornberger’s awareness of the lack of women in STEM fields became more prevalent when she came to Marquette.

“It wasn’t always obvious in my high school classes,” Hornberger said. “We actually usually had more girls in the STEM classes than boys. Once I got here, the balance definitely fell the other way. In my freshman engineering class, I think we had 40 kids in the room at a time and there were only like five girls. That same ratio is holding this year.”

Hornberger is working on the project with Maureen Mikkelsen, a senior in the College of Engineering and member of the Society of Women Engineers. Mikkelsen said the upperclasswomen in the society already take on a mentorship role for underclasswomen.

“The essence of the group is collaboration for all girls in Marquette’s College of Engineering and an opportunity for the upper class students to help develop the younger students professionally,” Mikkelsen said. “This includes network prepping, resume building, career fair information, corporate seminars, women in the industry coming in to talk and answer questions and social events.”

Hornberger described how the Society of Women Engineers is an ideal fit for their proposed mentorship program.

“We thought it was a good venue where we could find a lot of female engineering mentors that are aware of the STEM gap (who) want to mentor others,” Hornberger said.

Hornberger teamed up with a local Milwaukee startup named STEMhero to further the project. Nate Conroy, STEMhero’s founder, said his company has a mission to direct students into STEM fields.

“We’re focused on making science, math and engineering relevant and closing the gap in diversity,” Conroy said. “We don’t have enough diversity of students going into STEM fields. We don’t have enough students of color and females going into these fields.”

Hornberger described meeting Conroy at The Commons, a program showcasing innovation and entrepreneurship in Milwaukee.

“Conroy struck up a conversation with me one morning because he knew that I was a female engineering student and I have this mission to engage young students,” Hornberger said. “I did a mentorship program with them last fall with some middle schoolers.”

Mikkelsen worked with Hornberger on STEMhero’s pilot mentorship program and believes it was successful.

“Last fall Karlie and I were piloting the program with a few fifth-grade students in the Whitefish Bay area,” Mikkelsen said. “The pilot went really well and the girls were excited every week to meet up and continue the lesson. It was a very neat experience.”

Hornberger said the mentorship program they did with STEMhero established the model for which their program will expand with the Society of Women Engineers.

“It’s been a pretty interactive process overall because they’re the ones that had the connection to the middle school and they have experience running the program,” Hornberger said. “It was very guided by STEMhero and they set the model for how it’s going to work. Now Maureen and I are going to take it and bring it to more schools.”

Hornberger described her reaction to winning the Strategic Innovation Fund Award and her appreciation for the other projects.

“I was very excited,” Hornberger said. “It was during exam week so there was a lot going on, but I got the email and was like, ‘That’s awesome.’ It was a cool process, a lot of people submitted a lot of neat projects. There were a lot of faculty-run projects, but it was really cool to see the couple of student-run projects like ours and see what people want to do around campus.”

Hornberger believes that the award will bring new opportunities for the project.

“It’s definitely an opportunity to bring a good merit to the project around campus,” Hornberger said. “We really have a chance to work on it and develop it with these funds.”

Conroy said that Hornberger is a good example for young students to look up to.

“It’s refreshing to see successful students like Karlie as an example,” Conroy said. “That’s how you motivate younger students.”

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