Girls STEAM Ahead network connects area youth, professionals

  Eliana D'Astici, right, interviews a rocket engineer 
  while her mentor, Anne Colton, works the camera
  during the 2018 Girls STEAM Ahead event. D'Astici
  and Colton met at the 2017 event.
(Chronicle 
  file photo)
 

Eliana D’Astici wasn’t expecting to meet her new mentor at the Girls STEAM Ahead networking luncheon three years ago; she liked to volunteer for the Homewood Science Center, but she didn’t think she was interested in any STEAM fields.

“I was very fascinated by these women, but my entire heart wasn’t in it because I wanted to be a filmmaker and go into broadcasting,” the Homewood-Flossmoor High School student said.
 
Anne Colton, an independent documentary filmmaker working the event, wasn’t expecting to meet her new protégé either.
 
  Sylvia Parham, program
  manager with the Cook
  County Department of
  Planning and Development,
  right, speaks with a student
  during the Girls STEAM Ahead
  networking luncheon March 2
  at Idlewild Country Club.
  Parham said she told girls to
  be open to taking different
  steps down their career paths
  than they may have planned.

  (Stephanie Markham/H-F 
  Chronicle)
 
And yet, their partnership took off after the two got to talking about footage D’Astici took at the Washington, D.C. Women’s March.
 
“We met at the library and I chose some of my footage, and I really didn’t think it was that good,” D’Astici said. “But Anne got so excited, and now I’m excited.”
 
On March 2 during the third annual Girls STEAM Ahead at Idlewild Country Club in Flossmoor, D’Astici showcased her first documentary film “March through Generations,” which she made with Colton’s guidance. 

Girls STEAM Ahead is an initiative of the South Suburban STEAM Network and sponsored by Schneider Electric.
 
Nearly 150 girls attended this year’s program, titled “Major Decisions,” and had the opportunity to network with more than 70 professional women in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) fields.
 
D’Astici said that although networking can feel intimidating, it is important to spread out and ask questions because “you never know what can come of it.” 
 
  Christine Scully, president
  of Scully ADA Consulting Ltd,
  right, speaks with Lane Tech
  student Margaret Padilla, 12,
  during the Girls STEAM
  Ahead networking luncheon.
  Padilla said she talked with
  diverse professionals including
  a marine biologist,
  construction worker and
  doctor and that she aspires
  to go into the medical field.

  (Stephanie Markham/H-F 
  Chronicle)
 
D’Astici was able to interview the founder of the Women’s March for her film, and it was featured in the All American High School Film Festival.
 
“I strongly encourage girls here (to reach out),” she said. “Even if you may not get the mentorship, it can’t hurt. The worst someone can say is no.”
 
Girls also heard words of wisdom from speakers and panelists who shared their stories of struggles and successes.
 
Vicki Repsholdt, vice president of marketing for the U.S. power division of global energy company Schneider Electric, was keynote speaker for the event. 
 
She spoke about defining moments in her youth, such as when her sixth grade science teacher assigned the class to build a simple machine, and she decided to make a guillotine.
 
Repsholdt went to the hardware store for materials and put together what she could on her own, but she remembers thinking it looked “pretty pathetic” next to her classmates’ projects.
 
The lesson came when her favorite teacher gave her some harsh feedback.
 
“He had each of us walk up to his desk and he very quietly said to me, ‘I’m giving you a C, and I think I’m being very generous.’”
 
Though difficult to hear, her teacher’s criticism turned into an important learning moment, Repsholdt said.
 
“I learned that I can do better, I should try harder, I probably should have done more research, and I probably should have gotten a little more help from somebody, even if my parents couldn’t help,” she said.
 
Edie Dobrez, executive director of the Homewood Science Center, encouraged girls to keep being courageous by knowing how to be vulnerable.
 
While going through applications for the luncheon, Dobrez read about some of the struggles girls face such as test anxiety, difficulties in math, self-image, gender identity, racism, sexism and bullying, she said.
 
“I spent most of my adult life trying to hide my true self, trying to be perfect. Like, who would believe that?” Dobrez said. “No one is perfect. To be able to just be authentic and reveal your own inadequacies, your own vulnerabilities, that is such an important thing that you have already been able to do.”
 
Pat Barker, civil engineer with Robinson Engineering Ltd, spoke about engineering careers during the networking fair.
 
“These are great opportunities for girls because girls are problem solvers,” she said. 
 
She explained that women engineers improve their communities by finding solutions for transportation systems, water treatment, pollution and traffic.
 
“That’s what we (women) do; we care,” Barker said. 
 
Christine Scully, president of Scully ADA Consulting Ltd, wore her hard hat while participating in the networking fair. She said it is important for girls to see that someone who looks like them can succeed in male-dominated career fields. 
 
“I would have never pictured myself as a high school-age girl going to work like this,” she said.
 
Scully said she also connected with girls who enjoy art classes at Homewood-Flossmoor High School, like she did.
 
“I was able to combine my interest in art with my interests in science and engineering,” she said.
 
Willa Lee, a Homewood resident and volunteer at the science center, fundraised for the event with a group of family and friends and earned a “champion team” title by sponsoring 25 girls.
 
“I just love this program, the way it connects young girls with the women they want to become,” she said. 
 

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