By Christian Bustos
A one-day event at Eastern Kentucky University opened many doors of opportunity for now-freshman Haley Thacker. As a high school senior, Thacker attended STEM Goes Red on EKU’s campus. As a result, she received the Carol Barr Fund Scholarship, established in honor of U.S. Congressman Andy Barr’s late wife to support young women in Eastern Kentucky pursuing careers in STEM.
Hosted by EKU’s College of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) and College of Health Science and in partnership with the American Heart Association, the STEM Goes Red event focuses on growing students’ interests in pursuing STEM degrees and careers. Participants are encouraged to apply for the Carol Barr Fund Scholarship. In addition, EKU has committed to match the Carol Barr Fund academic scholarship with room and board scholarships for recipients who choose to attend EKU.
“Being a Carol Barr scholar is something I am always going to be proud of,” said Thacker, from Rockcastle County, Kentucky. “I am forever indebted to the American Heart Association, the amazing opportunities it has given me and the people it has brought into my life.”
One of Thacker's family members has mitral vital prolapse—the same condition which caused Carol Barr’s unexpected death. This was a wake-up call for Thacker’s family and to her community. She had the opportunity to speak to Carol Barr’s mother and friends when she attended last year’s STEM Goes Red event as a high school participant. Thacker wanted to be a part of honoring Carol’s legacy through this scholarship.
This year’s STEM Goes Red events were held on March 22 at the EKU Corbin Regional Campus and on March 24 in Richmond at EKU’s Science Building. In total, approximately 200 female high school seniors from EKU’s service region were chosen by their teachers to attend. Thacker, now an EKU student majoring in occupational sciences and minoring in special education, visited both events. In Corbin, she spoke as a panelist, and in Richmond, she moderated one of the student panels.
“You’re going to face challenges from all over, and if you can get through that first challenge, you can get through the next one,” Thacker advised. “If it is something that you are passionate about and want to do, don't let obstacles or hard courses stir you in a different path. I want young ladies to know to keep going and to show their inner strength.”
According to the National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP), women constitute 48% of the total workforce but only 34% of the STEM workforce. The NGCP publication, “The State of Girls and Women in STEM” states, “Girls/young women and boys/young men do not significantly differ in their abilities in mathematics and science, but do differ in their interest, confidence, and sense of belonging in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.”
Thacker says events such as STEM Goes Red helps show the capability and success of women in pursuing career paths in STEM. For her personally, she said she gained a confidence boost by coming to EKU.
Dr. Judy Jenkins, director of EKU’s Center for STEM Excellence, said, “As these students determine who they will become, I’m thrilled to invite them to try on and test out careers in STEM, as these careers allow us to positively impact the people, communities and the world we share.”
EKU offers a broad range of degree programs to prepare students for their chosen career, such as aviation and the new manufacturing engineering program in the College of STEM, and nursing, occupational science and medical laboratory science in the College of Health Sciences, among many others. In EKU’s state-of-the art Science Building, students gain access to interactive classrooms, high-tech labs and well-equipped research facilities. In the College of Health Sciences, students learn using cutting-edge resources and equipment for a hands-on educational experience.