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Yo-STEM program encourages underserved students in East TN to pursue STEM careers

The organization had three groups presenting at the Southern Appalachian Science and Engineering Fair.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A scientist at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory is working to help get underserved students interested in pursuing careers in STEM fields through a non-profit youth outreach organization she founded.

Candice Halbert, a chemist who works at ORNL, is currently working on her Ph.D. in Chemistry at the University of Tennessee and spends her free time mentoring young students who want to work in science, technology, engineering and math through her non-profit, Yo-STEM.  

"Introducing them to scientific methodology now is a good experience for them," Halbert said. "If we can get them hooked now, then they'll stay longer." 

On Tuesday, the organization had three groups of g-STEM, or girls in STEM, participate at the Southern Appalachian Science and Engineering Fair. 

One of the girls made a smart mirror to help her keep track of her school assignments while she looks in the mirror. 

"If I have an upcoming assignment that's going to be due pretty soon, it'll tell me that," said Lydia Burchett, a middle school student who designed and coded the mirror. 

Burchett said Yo-STEM helps her work in science and technology while being mentored by women. 

"It used to be like only men could be doctors, scientists, aerospace engineers," Burchett said. "Now, they're able to do everything." 

"They're not excluded just because they're a girl," Burchett said. 

Halbert's goal is to get more women and people of color interested in STEM fields. 

"If we can expose kids now to electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, genetics, it expands their horizon," Halbert said. 

"Be okay with being a nerd," Halbert said. "Nerds make money! Be a nerd all day long." 

Some of Halbert's teams of students from Yo-STEM are being nationally recognized. One of them won an app contest and will be celebrating in Washington, D.C. The other is headed to a national robotics tournament after success at the state level. 

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