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For information about the Society of Women Engineers and its work with students in grades K-12, visit Or, learn more about regional SWE Wow! This is Engineering events by emailing

Smart chicks, about 100 strong, commandeered the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center last weekend. Some were 4 feet tall, wearing braces, pink sneakers, ponytails or afro puffs. Others wore business suits, even a Navy uniform embroidered with an admiral’s star.

The message of the day, from elders to youth — dream. Work hard. Stay confident and competitive.

The Society of Women Engineers hosted St. Mary’s County’s first Wow! That’s Engineering! event Saturday. Some of the most innovative minds in the county — teachers, engineers who test aircraft and women who lead teams of hundreds to do the same — helped some of the region’s brightest girls conduct experiments and consider careers in science, math, engineering and technology.

“It’s extremely important to see there are successful women who have moved up through the ranks,” said Rear Adm. CJ Jaynes, who serves as both commander of the Navy’s Fleet Readiness Centers and as assistant commander of logistics at NAVAIR.

Jaynes, a former math teacher and basketball coach, watched with an expression somewhere between pride and happiness as dozens of girls solved problems and cheered each other on.

She also served as a real-life example of what’s possible for young women. Jaynes made history when she was promoted from captain earlier this year, becoming NAVAIR’s first female admiral.

“Paths have already been laid,” Jaynes said. If young women know that, “that’s one less barrier they have to break down.”

Catherine Vanecko, 13, from Chesapeake Public Charter School, managed to build a watercraft that, powered by a rubber band, sputtered across an inflatable pool. She also worked on a team that made sense of a pile of black wires, red wires, foil, purple masking tape and a cardboard box. The team members examined each piece, confered and deliberated, then fashioned it all into a contraption that propelled a golf ball several feet.

“I’d like to be an engineer and make hovercraft,” she said. Instead of worrying about rush-hour traffic, travelers could float above the congestion, zipping at various altitudes to their destinations. Think Jetsons incarnate.

Her schoolmate, Claire Stevens, 12, also participated in experiments and listened to inspirational speakers. Stevens said she likes science “sometimes.” But, she’s also into language arts and physical education. She can outwit and outshoot boys on the court, both girls agreed. “I feel like I have to be better than them,” Stevens said. “Especially in basketball.”

She’s thinking of becoming an architect. Or, a clothing designer. Or a model. “There’s a lot I’d like to do.”

And, that’s what Leslie Taylor, a member of the Senior Executive Service at NAVAIR, wants the girls to know. Not everyone is slated for, or interested in, careers in technology. But everyone can set lofty goals and reach them.

Taylor is among the government’s top, and most respected leaders. “Young women can do whatever they want,” Taylor said. “They do not have to be limited.”