Montana State University Billings brings back its annual Chicks in Science event Saturday to the school’s Alterowitz Gymnasium.

“It’s not a fair and it’s not an expo,” said Kim Schweikert, the event’s organizer. “It’s kind of an extravaganza.”

The event is designed to introduce fourth- through eighth-grade girls to science, technology and engineering in an appealing way. Dozens of booths will be set up with interactive displays to engage the girls. Girls will also have the chance to win door prizes.

Speaking at this year’s event will be Kathryn E.F. Russell, a Senior High grad and noted planetary scientist, and Mikayla Nelson, a freshman at Central High who sat with first lady Michelle Obama at this year’s State of the Union address.

“It’s about exposing girls to women who have followed their passion for science,” Schweikert said. “You can be a regular girl and just do amazing things.”

By showcasing Nelson, event organizers can show girls who attend that intelligence and hard work can pay off even before graduation.

Nelson and her classmates from Will James Middle School took the top design prize at last year’s National Science Bowl for the small, solar-powered race car they built. The win led to Nelson’s invitation to attend the White House Science Fair in October, where she met President Barack Obama.

She was then invited last month to attend the State of the Union address.

“Because she’s smart,” Schweikert said.

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New to this year’s event will be booths from Beartooth Nature Center and Homestead Veterinarian, both showcasing live animals.

Chicks in Science has become so popular since its creation in 2008 that next year organizers will expand to both the upper and lower sections of the university’s gymnasium.

“We’ve sort of outgrown (the space),” Schweikert said.

Organizers also have begun to plan a second event for boys called Adventures in Science that will be held next spring.

Schweikert also hopes to set up local Chicks in Science clubs at area elementary and middle schools.

Dan Carter, director of university relations at Montana State University Billings, said the event has been important for the college. It helps the school “showcase and nurture” its relationships with Billings’ medical service providers and engineering firms — places that support MSU Billings’ science programs and hire its graduates.

It also raises awareness for young girls that science is important and can lead to fun, viable careers.

“You can’t put a price tag on that kind of awareness,” he said.

Contact Rob Rogers at rrogers@billingsgazette.com or 657-1231.

Contact Rob Rogers at rrogers@billingsgazette.com or 657-1231.