At next month's Tri-Valley Expanding Your Horizons conference, a daylong event for young women in middle school, students can program a Lego robot, build and fly a rocket, and make a necklace that contains their own DNA.
"They come back just raving about the conference," said Tavie Knapp, science teacher and department head at Charlotte Wood Middle School. "They like the hands-on activities. I think they like it because it's not just lecturing."
Ann Willoughby, community and education programs manager at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory - which sponsors the conference - said she thinks young people in Danville have a keen interest in science.
"It is embraced and reinforced by the school district," she said. "As a parent in that school district, I applaud what they do in this area."
The Expanding Your Horizons conference will host about 300 girls from the San Ramon Valley, Livermore, Pleasanton, Dublin and Sunol school districts. It includes a career fair, science expos, a keynote speaker and practical workshops - which most people agree are the real heart of the conference.
From potion-making to dentistry, students choose from a variety of workshop topics that represent careers in science and math.
"Workshops really show the young girls, in a hands-on way, what kinds of jobs are out there," said Linda Lucchetti, public information officer at Livermore Lab. "The girls can roll their sleeves up and really get in and do something. I think that's what keeps them coming back."
The conference is specifically for young women because these types of careers have typically been male-dominated in the past.
"We want (the girls) to see that these jobs are not primarily just for men anymore," Lucchetti said.
Lucchetti said studies show that sometimes as early as fifth or sixth grade is when students will decide "yea or nay" for getting into science. And their experiences and interests in middle school will influence their class decisions come high school.
"It's getting younger and younger," said Knapp, noting that students' grades in the eighth grade can determine their classes in high school, which in turn determines where they choose to go to college. "I told them this year that I know it's a long way off, but you need to start thinking about things you're interested in."
At the conference's career fair, the girls chat informally with professionals from various occupations. Lucchetti said that while more young women are realizing careers in science and math are open to them, there's still a long way to go.
"We need to keep at it," she said.
Registration for the conference is open to grades 6-9. It is limited and has filled quickly in past years.
Contact Meghan Neal at mneal@DanvilleWeekly.com.
Science for girls