Hanford Volunteers Connect Young Women With STEM Careers

RICHLAND, Wash. – Volunteers at the EM Hanford Site are reaching out to female students to promote the importance of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and careers.

Employees of Hanford tank farms contractor Washington River Protection Solutions (WRPS) joined with the Tri-City area chapters of Soroptimist International, a global volunteer organization that improves the lives of females of all ages through programs leading to social and economic empowerment.

WRPS employees Maichen Carnes, Michelle Hendrickson, Maria Lopez, and Robin Varljen volunteered at a free one-day event held at Columbia Basin College recently for eighth- and ninth-graders to teach them about career possibilities, setting and achieving goals, and overcoming obstacles to success.

“This is a great way to give back to our community while helping empower and educate young females considering STEM careers,” Lopez said.

All four WRPS employees participated in career mentoring. About 60 young women spent time with the mentors, rotating through their group to explore other job interests.

“The event was a great opportunity for the young women to learn about many different careers, see that they are achievable, and understand the necessary path to get there,” Carnes said. “I enjoyed mentoring them about opportunities similar to those I had at their age, which led me to my current career.”

Varljen said she enjoys working with the local Soroptimist groups to engage young women in planning for college and careers.

“In the face of societal and gender expectations, young women need to see other women in non-traditional careers, including careers and roles of power and influence so they can begin to question and overcome bias,” Varljen said. “It is so rewarding to bring together this group to empower the next generation of women leaders in STEM.”

EM Office of River Protection Chief Engineer Elaine Diaz noted that STEM professionals will be in demand to meet new and unique challenges in the Hanford cleanup in the future.

“As the pace of operations increases on Hanford, it’s going to be exciting, interesting, and a lot of fun,” Diaz said. “We will need energetic and innovative people in STEM careers to become our workforce of the future. I’m very pleased to see our technical folks reaching out and mentoring the next generation of innovators.”

Soroptimist International was formed in 1921 in Oakland, California, at a time when women were not permitted to join service organizations. The name Soroptimist was coined from the Latin “soror,” meaning sister, and “optima,” meaning best, or perhaps interpreted as “the best for women.” The network of more than 75,000 club members in 122 countries works at local, national, and international levels to educate, empower and enable women.

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