The Dr. Jewel Plummer Cobb S.T.E.A.M. Conference is an annual conference that serves as a inspiring and encouraging forum where individuals from all backgrounds and identities are motivated to embrace their own personal story. It particularly embraced the celebration of individuals with backgrounds in science, technology, engineering, arts, and/or mathematics (S.T.E.A.M.) It is also free.
This year, the third annual S.T.E.A.M. Conference was held in the Livingston Student Center on Saturday, March 30, 2019 from 10 am to 4 pm. The theme this year was, “The Future is Feminist.” Attendees had the opportunity to listen to inspirational speakers, including a New York Times Best-Selling Author Imbolo Mbue and the former Miss New Jersey Cierra Kaler-Jones as two of this year’s Keynote Speakers; network with and speak with representatives from various industries such as Johnson & Johnson, Prudential Insurance Company, and Columbia University; and listen to the stories of fellow Rutgers students and faculty. There were even a ton of fun activities to participate in in-between breakout sessions, such as taking Instagram boomerangs in the ball pit or creating customizable D-I-Y mugs.
Here are 3 reasons why you should consider attending the Dr. Jewel Plummer Cobb S.T.E.A.M. Conference next year:
- S.C.A.P. Can (And Will) Empower You!
This year was my first time being a part of the S.T.E.A.M. Conference Ambassador Program (SCAP). It involved reading the inspirational book “Dare to Lead” by Brene Brown (which we received for free); promoting the event regularly on our social media channels using the hashtag #stemHerstory; and helping make the S.T.E.A.M. Conference a dream come true by setting up the day before, managing logistics the day of, and cleaning up at the end of the conference.
I initially found out about it while logging into the GetInvolved website for things related to Her Campus Rutgers, however, I was intrigued by the opportunity to network and engage with like-minded but different students, alumni, and speakers. I had previously attended conferences before and I found them great spaces for encouragement and learning, especially if you’re working them! After some thought, I applied, and not long after I was welcomed into the S.T.E.A.M. Conference Ambassador Program!
The book they required us to read, and later write a two-page report on, was something I found myself looking forward to reading in-between classes, more so than my required readings (and I’m an English major) which was due in large part because it really spoke to where I was right now. As a senior who is graduating in May, I was becoming more and more discouraged from applying for jobs and internships- if I don’t apply, I can never be rejected, right? And as I grew more and more discouraged, I threw myself more into my clubs and partying instead of my own personal future. But, that’s not how I should have been thinking (and I’m currently not in that mindset). Instead, I should have the mindset of, as Brown states at the very beginning of the book, “…Having the courage to show up when you can’t control the outcome.” I’m happy that they gave all the Ambassadors an opportunity to read this book, because it definitely reminded me to stay positive and find strength in vulnerability.
Being a part of the team behind the scenes also introduced me to like-minded but still different individuals who were almost all here for the same purpose- to empower themselves and others. Not only was I working with fellow Rutgers students, who were also Conference Ambassadors, to make a rainbow big enough to cover the window in the Livingston Student Center Gathering Lounge with just construction paper and blue tape, but I was also directly interacting with the Student Involvement and Student Affairs faculty and staff to make the conference possible by coordinating communication and managing the logistics of the breakout sessions. While it may sound like a lot of work, it really wasn’t because it was all so fun and I was working with people who wanted to be there. And to top it all off, there was still time in-between getting work done to introduce yourself to industry representatives and some of the Keynote/Breakout session speakers!
- Speakers That Will Leave You Speechless
I had never attended the S.T.E.A.M. Conference before this year, so I wasn’t sure what to expect concerning the speakers. So, when they finally announced all of the speakers, I was delightfully floored by how all these brilliant, amazing, and successful individuals were coming to speak at the Conference that I would be volunteering for at Rutgers! The Distinguished Guest Speaker was originally Suzanne Douglass Cobb, actress and daughter-in-law of Dr. Jewel Plummer Cobb, whom the conference is named after. Unfortunately, due to unexpected sickness, she was unable to attend and was replaced with Dr. Jewel Plummer Cobb’s son, Jonathan Cobb. Dr. Jewel Plummer Cobb was sixth dean of Douglass College at Rutgers University from 1976 to 1981 and eventually became the first black woman to lead California State University, Fullerton- reportedly the first black woman to head a major university on the west coast. It was amazing to hear from the son of the Conference’s namesake about her origins and journey to success, but also see pictures of her as a child, a student, a doctor, and a mother.
The Keynote Speakers included New York Times Best-Selling Author and Rutgers Alum Imbolo Mbue and the second Miss New Jersey of color in history and Rutgers Alum Cierra Kaler Jones. Imbolo Mbue’s fiction novel “Behold the Dreamers” is not only a NYT Bestseller but also has received the Pen/Faulkner Award for Best Fiction, was a selection of Oprah’s Book Club, and is being adapted into a stage play. During her Keynote, she reminisced about coming to Rutgers and enjoying Pphilly cheese steaks and burgers in the Livingston Student Center, but also discussed the significance of making success your own by believing in yourself, persevering, and not blaming others when you do fail. Cierra Kaler Jones’ Keynote emphasized the value of storytelling when defending things that matter to you, which in her case, was the preservation of arts programs in her school when she was a child. Storytelling, since then, has played a big role in her life as she later became a spokesperson and teaching artist.
The Keynote Speakers were not the only speakers that left attendees speechless on that beautiful, sunny Saturday morning. There were also the S.T.E.A.M. Hot Topics Talks Session Speakers, which included Rutgers student Alexis Etes, who discussed how the obstacles and turbulence she faced as a child were not excuses but instead hurdles for her to overcome as she obtained numerous awards, accolades, scholarships, and leadership positions throughout the years, and RUPD Community Police Officer Marlise Correa, who shared her journey to achieving her lifelong dream of becoming a police officer despite being a mother at a young age. The Hot Topics Sessions Speakers made way for the Breakout Empowerment Session Speakers, which included successful individual from various branches and industries, including but not limited to Prudential Insurance Company, Johnson & Johnson, Columbia University, and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. The conference covered a variety of topics- from transitioning into college and negotiating your salary to body positivity and the experiences of women in color in male-dominated industries. The odds of finding a breakout session or speaker that didn’t resonate with your pursuits or interest were slim to none!
- Community (And Goodies!)
One of the biggest aspects of the conference was the community that it brought together! All of the attendees, speakers, and ambassadors are working, in many different ways, to emphasize the significance of representation of all kinds in different industries and to support each other, whether you are a senior graduating or a freshman who hasn’t even declared their major. You don’t need to be a S.C.A.P. Leader to be a part of this! There are so many opportunities to meet new friends or possible mentors in the intimate and welcoming setting that the Conference strives to create- whether it be in the breakout sessions that occurred in all corners of the Livingston Student Center or in the Livingston Gathering Lounge, renamed “The Happy Place” the day of the event, which was taken over by lego blocks, a ball pit, inflatable beach balls, and a rainbow made out of construction paper and tape.
Students of all ages (from High school to College) were gathered around, carefully personalizing their D-I-Y mugs with empowering (and cute!) stickers and doodling on them with the variety of colored markers available to them; creating personalized buttons; and making jars of origami stars with positive sayings or encouraging statements for those difficult-to-get-through days. There were also plenty of photo opps scattered around Livingston Student Center.- there was a beautiful throne for all the queens in attendance (everyone), a step-and-learn poster that attendees could get polaroids in front of (see first image), and of course, the ball pit. Wherever you went, there was always a smile and a willing person to take a pic for you and your friends or even with you!
Overall, the third annual Dr. Jewel Plummer Cobb S.T.E.A.M. Conference was an unforgettable and priceless experience that I recommend every Rutgers student attend (and bring friends)! Even though it was one of the most beautiful days marking the beginning of spring, I was perfectly happy with running around the Livingston Student Center in a long-sleeved bright red quarter zip because I was happy to be there and make something I really believed in a success. Keep an eye out for next year’s conference, you don’t want to miss out!