When Nadia Diaz and Abbi Rogers were students at American Fork High School, “inspirational” chemistry teacher Whitney Beckstead took them to SheTech Explorer Day three years running.

The chance to interact with women who had established careers in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) had a big influence on the teenagers. Both now 18, Diaz is now studying forensic science at Utah Valley University while Rogers is at Utah State University, studying veterinary science.

“I wouldn’t be majoring in veterinary science if it weren’t for SheTech,” Rogers said Thursday, when the Women Tech Council held its fifth annual event at Mountain America Expo Center in Sandy. “I learned about the science behind veterinary work. I knew I could make a career out of this.”

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Students watch as their handmade paper rockets are launched to learn about aerodynamics in relation to drag and thrust as they watch the rocket's trajectory at a "Rocket Science" workshop to learn about at SheTech Explorer Day for high school girls to learn and explore the world of science and math including, coding, robotics, building circuits, diamond butting, artificial intelligence and virtual reality at the Mountain America Expo Center in Sandy, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018.

More than 2,000 high school girls were expected to take part in this year’s activities, ranging from building circuitry to cutting diamonds, under the watchful eye of mentors from private-sector tech companies such as Dealertrack, Cox Automotive, Domo, Ivanti, Adobe, Ancestry.com, AT&T, Dell EMC and Vivint Smart Home.

It’s likely that many of this year’s younger girls initially viewed science like Diaz did when she first went to SheTech as a sophomore. She hadn’t given it much thought as a career path.

But after three trips to the expo, Diaz had firsthand experience with a variety of subjects, from computer hacking to genetic testing. She found out what disciplines she didn’t care for — phlebotomy topped the list — but also discovered she had an affinity for forensic science after helping to solve a fake murder, in part by figuring out what kind of ink was used to write a ransom letter in the case.

“I walked out of the classroom knowing this was the field I wanted to go into,” Diaz said.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) West High School student Scarlett Cortes reaches for virtual reality objects as she experiences virtual reality goggles at SheTech Explorer Day for high school girls to learn and explore the world of science and math including, coding, robotics, building circuits, diamond butting, artificial intelligence and virtual reality at the Mountain America Expo Center in Sandy, Thursday, March 1, 2018.

Beckstead took 45 girls to SheTech on Thursday, praising the event as “bigger and better than ever.” Now in her fourth year at American Fork High, the 29-year-old University of Utah graduate impresses upon all of her students the value of attempting to take on tasks that are difficult, like learning chemistry.

But for her girls, she said, she also “tries to help them see how exciting, engaging and applicable science is — and the opportunities that are out there.”

Even as influential as a teacher may be, Beckstead said, “I can only do so much. I’m a teacher. I’m not in a lab. Here at SheTech, the girls get to see so many other women who are strong and have taken advantage of the opportunity to do STEM work. I go back and reinforce that message in the classroom.”

Before she got to know Beckstead and attended SheTech sessions, Rogers said, the thought of going into technology was rather intimidating because “it is more of a boy thing.”

But at SheTech, she said, “I could see so many girls and women in the sciences. I felt empowered. There were people in these fields I can look up to. And my chemistry teacher really encouraged all the girls in my high school to go out and do it. I always knew I’d have someone rooting for me — and it was her.”

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) l-r Zonda Perry, a technology business operations consultant assists students Denise Salas (center) and Juanine Vargas (right) from Highland High School make a paper rocket at a "Rocket Science" workshop to learn about aerodynamics in relation to drag and thrust at SheTech Explorer Day for high school girls to learn and explore the world of science and math including, coding, robotics, building circuits, diamond butting, artificial intelligence and virtual reality at the Mountain America Expo Center in Sandy, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018.

Diaz also took Beckstead’s comments to heart about the sciences being dominated by men (women make up 23.5 percent of Utah’s tech workforce and 28 percent nationally).

“That gave me more motivation to go into it,” Diaz said. “Science is something I’m good at and I want to be an example to other girls out there.”

Counting this year’s participants, Women Tech Council President Cydni Tetro said, roughly 12,000 girls have attended and explored STEM-related fields, assisted by nearly 700 private-sector mentors.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ascent Acadamy's Yvonne Malbog reacts as her handmade paper rocket is launched into the air to learn about aerodynamics in relation to drag and thrust at a "Rocket Science" workshop to learn about at SheTech Explorer Day for high school girls to learn and explore the world of science and math including, coding, robotics, building circuits, diamond butting, artificial intelligence and virtual reality at the Mountain America Expo Center in Sandy, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018.