Teen conservation conference focuses on diversifying STEM-field

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Faith Littlehurd (right), Nicholas Bertrand and Christian McComb dissected a crayfish at the Teen Conservation Leadership Conference Tuesday, July 11. | Rachel Hinton/Sun-Times.

Nicole Murphy has wanted to be a veterinary surgeon since she was 4.

While many young people change their career paths, Murphy, now 17, still wants to help animals and takes every opportunity to learn more about it and the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) field that she can.

That’s how Murphy ended up at the Illinois Institute of Technology on Tuesday for the Teen Conservation Leadership Conference.

Sitting close in the front, Murphy actively took notes and approached panelists and speakers after the sessions she attended to learn more.

“There’s not a lot of women in STEM, but it’s not (a field) that’s going to disappear,” said Murphy, who will be a senior at South Shore International College Preparatory High School in the fall.

“We need people who are constantly thinking of new things and spreading that interest to help people learn about it.”

In its second year, the three-day conference, hosted by the Chicago Zoological Society, brought in 250 students from around 100 high schools across Chicago who are all interested in STEM studies.

Keynote speaker Susan Korn, vice president of nuclear project management at Exelon Generation, told students to find what motivates them.

Luis Mendez, manager of high school and college outreach programs for the zoological society and Brookfield Zoo, said that the goal of the conference is to expose students to the possibility of doing something in STEM and to let them know that a future in the field is in reach.

“We wanted to expose kids to people in STEM so they could get an idea of how to pursue a career (in the field),” Mendez said. “A lot of the teens in this program are passionate about topics already and we want to continue to give them the tools to pursue their goals and to hear from people first hand.”

During the crayfish dissection, Faith Littlehurd, said that changes to the conference from last year are helping her think about her future.

“There were more speakers last year and they did a really good job, but you can tell they have more experience this year,” said Littlehurd, who will be a freshman at Thornton Fractional South High School.

“The keynote speaker (this year) gave some really good advice, and we’re learning stuff that is specific, but I can broaden them to my own life and apply to my future.”

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