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The Women of Color in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Conference celebrated its 20th year at their annual gala Saturday in Detroit, Michigan, honoring women in scientific and technical fields.

Reaching the 20th milestone is proof of the important work that was being done noted one conference sponsor.

“I’d like to acknowledge the hundreds of talented individuals over the years who’ve worked so hard to build this platform,” said Dave Veres, executive director of government services at Aerotek, which provides recruiting and staffing to many industries focusing on technical, professional and industrial staffing.

“But here’s the real question: What will this room look like 20 years from today,” asked Veres.

That’s a great question, said gala emcee Pamela McCauley, who was at the very first Women of Color STEM Conference held in Washington D.C. in 1996.

“We all have a responsibility that it’s at least twice this size,” McCauley said.

‘STEM is a girl thing’

“Since its origin, 20 years ago, and I was there in the nation’s capital, the conference has proudly paved the way for the advancement of women who are traditionally underrepresented in STEM,” McCauley added.

A poster child for the Women of Color in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Conference, McCauley had dreamed of becoming an astronaut since she was a little girl, sleeping in the roll-away bed on the porch of her grandmother’s house in Spencer, Oklahoma.

From 1997-1999, McCauley, now a tenured professor in the Department of Industrial Engineering and Management Systems at the University of Central Florida, was an MLK visiting professor at MIT, hosted by the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Bell’s current research interests include evaluation and development of artificial intelligence models using fuzzy set theory, human factors in chemical and biological weapon development leadership, and women in STEM.

“We take this responsibility seriously and we’ve seen the results of sharing and mentoring,” McCauley said. “So many wholeheartedly have supported Women of Color’s hashtag campaign #STEMISAGIRLTHING” on social networks.

Since 1996, Career Communications Group (CCG), the company behind the Women of Color STEM Conference, has published and promoted the profiles of thousands of women in science, technology, engineering, and math in CCG’s Women of Color, Hispanic Engineer, and Black Engineer magazines.

‘Powerful stories, extraordinary women’

Among those featured over the years are Technologists of the Year-the most prestigious Women of Color STEM Award.

Four technologists of the year were presenters at the 2015 Women of Color STEM Gala. They included 2014 Technologist of the Year, Alicia Boler-Davis of General Motors, 2012 Technologist of the Year Sonya F. Sepahban, retired senior vice president at General Dynamics Land Systems; retired Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems sector vice president Chineta K. Davis, the 2007 Technologist of the Year, and 2002winner Duy-Loan Le, a former Texas Instruments fellow.

“Powerful stories, extraordinary women inspire us all to encourage girls and women in our lives,” Veres said. “It’s estimated that by 2020, just a few years away, the demand for STEM professionals will add over a million jobs in the U.S. alone.”

Recent data shows that although women make up almost half of the U.S. workforce, they hold less than 25 percent of the jobs in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Only 11 percent of practicing engineers are women, yet women make up more than 20 percent of engineering school graduates. In 1985, women received 37 percent of computer science bachelor’s degrees; by 2013, a mere 18 percent of computer and information sciences bachelor’s degree recipients were women.

Watch the 2015 WOC STEM Gala on YouTube

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