NIF engineering technician Destiny Goddu was the keynote speaker at the 2017 San Joaquin Expanding Your Horizons (SJEYH) Conference for girls on Saturday, Sept. 23. The conference celebrated its 25th year by bringing 500 girls to the University of the Pacific Campus in Stockton to learn more about science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM.
Co-sponsored by LLNL, Sandia National Laboratories, and the University of the Pacific School of Engineering and Computer Science, SJEYH is designed to spark young girls’ interest in STEM careers in a fun environment. Participants spanning grades 6 to 12 come from across San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties—from Stockton, Lodi, Manteca, and Modesto as well as rural communities—to attend the daylong event.
Goddu, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who recently received her associate of science degree in engineering technology while working part-time at NIF, began her talk with a quote by actress Emma Watson: “Girls should never be afraid to be smart.”
Warming to the conference theme, "STEMpowered!", Goddu shared the off-again, on-again story of how she decided to pursue a career in STEM.
“It took me a long time to realize that I was capable of doing whatever I put my mind to, regardless of my gender,” Goddu said. “As a child I would help my father work on cars. Old engines and car parts filled my backyard growing up and sparked my interest in mechanics.”
It wasn’t a clear-cut journey for Goddu. She talked about losing her spark for academics in high school, being more concerned with popularity and being cool, until her senior year when a high school teacher told her she should be an electrician. “Although I didn’t pursue a career as an electrician after high school, that conversation with my high school teacher was a big part of why I chose the path of aviation electronics in the Marine Corps.”
Goddu served in the Marines for five years, a tenure that included many awards and medals for her service. As a female in the Marine Corps, Goddu felt she had to work twice as hard as the men to prove herself. “It’s not always easy being in a male-dominated field like the military, and there was a point that I allowed that to cause some resistance again for a career in STEM. I lost that spark again and allowed others to drain my battery.”
Veteran of the Year
After being honorably discharged, she enrolled in the Veterans to Technology program at Las Positas College. She interned at LLNL during her studies, performing so well she was asked to stay and work as a NIF mechanical engineering technician while pursuing her degree. In July, Assemblywoman Catharine Baker (R-San Ramon) recognized Goddu as the Veteran of the Year for her 16th Assembly District.
“My experience in STEM has been full of times that often felt like failures, but little did I know then that failure was part of success,” Goddu said. “Don’t be afraid to work hard, to find your passion and to see what you are capable of. Don’t let others hinder your path to greatness. Find out what sparks your interest by getting involved in more STEM programs like today and be sure to take advantage of all these wonderful mentors here that volunteered to be here for you. I hope today helps you find your passion and ignites your source of STEM power.”
At the conference, each participant attended three out of 21 available hands-on workshops and visited booths featuring various STEM activities. Giving demonstrations at the NIF & Photon Science booth were Kathleen Schaffers, Rebecca Dylla-Spears, Robin Miles, Henry Hui, and Alex Aguirre, who were among more than 40 LLNL employees involved in SJEYH.
Brookelyn McCaffrey, a seventh-grade student at Ben Holt Middle School, a “College for Certain” charter school in Stockton, attended the conference for the first time and described her experience as “awesome.”
“The thing I liked the most was learning about science experiments,” she said. “In one class, I learned about energy and how it can transfer through bodies, and I also liked learning about liquid nitrogen. It was so cool. I really love math and architecture and I want to be a civil engineer. I am excited for my future in science.”
Jeene Villanueva, an LLNL computer scientist, has served as SJEYH conference chair/co-chair since 2014. “It was a special year celebrating our 25th anniversary,” Villanueva said. “We continue to have amazing presenters who run inspiring workshops, chaperones who return year after year, volunteers to help anywhere they can and a dedicated SJEYH board core committee planning for several months behind the scenes. It is a rewarding experience to see the excitement on the faces of the attendees during the workshops and activities at EYH.”
SJEYH is one of two Expanding Your Horizons conferences coordinated by LLNL volunteers. The 2018 Tri-Valley Expanding Your Horizons Conference will be held Feb. 24 at the Diablo Valley College San Ramon Campus. For more information on this and other LLNL STEM activities, see “Laboratory Outreach Programs Inspire the Next Generation.”