Three post-secondary institutions in Calgary hosted nearly 1,000 female high school students on Wednesday and offered them the opportunity to explore careers in science, technology, engineering and math, better known as STEM.

Explore STEM is a program that is aimed at getting girls interested in the field that is increasing in demand across the world.

Officials say that it’s especially important to extend the invitation to female students given that women continue to be vastly underrepresented in the field.

Furthermore, it’s projected that there will be labour shortages in STEM careers in Alberta in the near future.

Alan Fedoruk, computer science professor at MRU, says that women only make up about 20 to 25 percent of the workforce in STEM fields and an even lower percentage when you look at computer science in particular.

"Only about 10 to 15 percent of our students in our programs are women."

He says that when he was in school in the 1980s, there was a larger proportion of women in computing so the big question is what happened?

The event is expected to explore that question and influence students to pursue STEM.

"The idea is that young people, around Grade 9, is when they start to think about what they're going to do when they finish high school. So, to bring them here and expose them to some of the cool and fun stuff you can do in STEM, computing, engineering, technology and all those things and hopefully that will influence them in their thinking."

Pamini Thangarajah, professor of mathematics at MRU, was one of two students in her university math class in Sri Lanka before eventually starting to work in Calgary in 2001.

She believes that many of the girls these days hold truth in the statement that 'math is for boys'.

"That's not really true. They should be able to pursue their passion. If they are interested in this, they should be able to pursue this."

Thangarajah says that discrimination in the classroom where she came from was pretty clear when she was in Sri Lanka, but that got better when she moved to North America.

"When I came to the States, even when I was one woman in a class, they were very supportive. The boys were always encouraging me to do more."

She says that there are certain things that women can bring into a math class.

"They can bring in their talent. Women can excel in many other things too. Organization for example; I make sure that I follow every step."

Young women, like Samantha Ar, say that part of the reason that other girls turn their back on STEM is because of other more glamorous interests.

"Girls want to be famous on television, or acting or drama. Some may not be interested in science because maybe some think it's boring or some think it's not so fun to do."

Ar says that with more women becoming interested in STEM, it shows that they want to break down the misconceptions associated with their gender.

"They say more males are doctors and are engineers. Girls can be those too and it can be better if they are even."

Participants in the Explore Stem program took part in a number of different projects, depending on what post-secondary school they happened to visit.

At Mount Royal University, students worked with 3D video and graphics, explored map data from NASA, created original graphics for social media and designed and printed 3D models.

Students at SAIT got to meet and speak with accomplished women in the STEM field, learned tactics to keep computers safe from cyberthreats, learned about the basics of programming a mobile app and worked with live broadcasting and video editing.

The University of Calgary hosted engineering groups where students engaged in a building activity, built an electronic ‘gizmo’, used motion sensor technology to explore human movement and learn about how that is used in kinesiology and learned about technologies currently employed to address and clean up oil spills.

For more information on the program, you can visit the official website.