PATERSON, NJ - Latinas hold only 2% of STEM jobs. To help Latinas interested in STEM careers push through the barriers that face them, the Latinas in STEM Foundation was founded in 2013 by Latina MIT alumnae who sought to formalize the work they were already doing in their respective communities.

According to the organization, "We all know first-hand that there are barriers to entry for women in STEM. Those barriers are compounded for Latinas due to a lack of role models, lagging outreach and overall limited parental awareness. We are a force from the community for the community to inspire and empower parents and K-12 students to pursue STEM, and to help college students and professionals thrive in their careers."

To spread awareness about STEM, and inspire and encourage middle school and high-school Latinas in Paterson to strongly consider pursuing STEM careers, Latinas in STEM partnered with NJCDC and Paterson Public Schools to hold their first STEM Conference in the Silk City on Saturday, March 23. More than 100 youth and their parents attended the free STEM 101 Conference at School 5, which was made possible thanks to support from the New Jersey Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of NJ, Valley National Bank, NASA, UPS, NJ STEM Month, The College Funding Coach, and SHPE-NJ.

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Paterson native Dayrene Martinez delivered the keynote address bright and early. A graduate of Garrett Morgan Academy, Dayrene was also active in NJCDC's Paterson Youth Council and worked as a Great Falls Youth Corps member. Dayrene went on to earn her degree in engineering from the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), and currently works as a Systems Engineer for Raytheon, a major U.S. defense contractor in Tucson, Arizona.

Regarding her experience with Latinas in STEM 101, Dayrene said, "I felt so lucky to be accepted into Garrett Morgan Academy, where I fell in love with engineering. I always did a lot of community service with younger students through NJCDC in high school, and in college I wanted to plan a science day for kids. A professor I had at Passaic County Community College encouraged me to apply for a summer internship with Latinas in STEM. I was accepted, and at one of their conferences, I realized that this is what I was born to do. I didn't have a program for myself like this when I was a kid, and the fact the Latinas in STEM involves the parents as well makes it that much more meaningful. It has been a goal in my life to be able to bring something like this back to Paterson."

Afterwards, while students participated in STEM workshops, parents gathered for the "STEM, Y Eso Con Que Se Come?" and "Little Known Secrets of Paying for College" sessions. Following lunch and a career and college expo, students enjoyed their last workshop of the day, while their parents attended "How to Motivate Your Child to Succeed" by bestselling author Kenia Nunez.

NJCDC CEO Bob Guarasci said, "Latinas are severely underrepresented in STEM. We're deeply appreciative of Latinas in STEM coming to Paterson and partnering with NJCDC and Paterson Public Schools to hold this innovative conference. We're confident it will inspire youth who attended to pursue STEM careers, and position their parents to support them on their journey."


This story is shared with permission from NJCDC