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  • Writer's pictureGig Harbor Living Local

Career and Pathway Expo

Inspiring the minds of young girls through STEAM By Jillian Chandler | Photo by Alexa Shanafelt

Career and Pathway Expo

“The energy between participants at CAPE always proves to be electric!” smiles Joy Giovanini, CAPE and Highly Capable coordinator. I am excited to visit the workshops where the students are so engaged with the hands-on learning that they lose their sense of time and place.”

CAPE—Career and Pathway Expo—is a one-day event that was inspired by Joy’s years teaching robotics and CSI forensics to middle-schoolers. “My co-workers (Carol Rivera and Shira Stark) and I were intentional about addressing the traditional underrepresentation of those engineering and health science courses on multiple fronts—including gender balance. Even though we got the classes to be around 50/50 with girls and boys, we found that was not the case locally, as a state, and as a nation, so I got curious about ways to address that concern.”

She goes on to share that research from American Association of University Women titled “Why So Few” and from Girl Scouts called “Generation STEM” found that:

• Having it be relational focused with at least a few friends gets girls in the door.

• Feeling invited and seen during the middle school years makes a lasting impression.

• Representation matters, so seeing someone your gender and race doing a job can make a big impact.

• STEAM with a purpose and mission especially appeals to girls.

It was these findings that would become the foundation for CAPE. “There are other STEAM opportunities in the area, but creating one in our community that taps into the incredibly talented local educators and professionals who are so willing to pour into our students really makes for an inspiring and impactful event!” affirms Joy.

The first Career and Pathway Expo was held in spring of 2015. After being put on hold the past few years due to COVID, its return marks its sixth year, with the 2023 expo taking place 9am to 1pm on January 21 at Harbor Ridge Middle School. It is open to all middle school girls from the district.

“The goal of the event is to spark an interest and to fan any small flames that exist so the students will keep the door open to future career possibilities,” shares Joy. “Ultimately CAPE is there to inspire and give a ‘Why’ to girls about the benefits of STEM pathways.”

Each year, the event kicks off with a keynote speaker. For 2023, they’re honored to have Gig Harbor resident Stephanie Acierno, MD, MPH, FACS, FAAP, a pediatric general and thoracic surgeon who has been in practice at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma since August of 2009.

Girls then get to explore learning with elementary through high school teachers at expo tables. Students have a passport that they get stamped as they visit the experiments, and there are STEAM raffle prizes. They then get to experience career-focused workshops based on their interests.

Workshops this year are varied and exciting, according to Joy, and include Harbor WildWatch, a veterinary radiologist, a structural engineer, a project manager, a physician’s assistant and a computer engineer.

As Joy reiterates, CAPE could not happen without the wonderful community sponsors and amazing mentors. If anyone is interested in getting involved in the future, she invites you to reach out to her via email at

“CAPE has some generous support and donations this year including Peninsula Schools Education Foundation, Soroptimists of Gig Harbor, and Tapco CU,” she says. “All of the funds, including the $15 registration fee, go directly to the girls.” Items included in the day consist of CAPE shirts, backpacks, learning kits, hands-on materials for workshops, and Keep the Learning Raffle prizes.

As Superintendent Krestin Bahr states, “Peninsula School District's partnerships with the Chamber of Commerce and local businesses have driven home the importance of preparing our students for the future. The Career and Pathway Expo event (CAPE) is a wonderful opportunity for our middle school girls to get a glimpse of what they can become, and the event incorporates all the goals of the district’s strategic plan.”

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