While growing up in the Long Beach area, Alexxandra Hurtado was fascinated by her science classes and began to dream of becoming a doctor.

For years she kept quiet about her career goal for fear that people would discourage her, like one teacher who told her that working in entertainment or as a newscaster would be “more suitable to your personality,” Hurtado said.

But she found her confidence and earned a bachelor’s degree from Cal State Long Beach in molecular biology, and now she’s working as a stem cell researcher at City of Hope while she applies to medical school.

Hurtado hopes her story will inspire the more than 230 girls from Long Beach middle schools who came to a STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) conference on Friday at Sato Academy, a math- and science-focused high school in the Long Beach Unified School District.

After hearing a keynote address from Hurtado, the girls split up to attend about 10 hands-on workshops led by women in STEM fields. They measured the crash force generated by toy cars they built; they tested different materials as potential water treatment filters; they learned how technicians do MRI and ultrasound imaging; and they built structures of dry spaghetti and marshmallows, then checked their stability on shaky ground (in this case, a pan of Jell-O).

Sato Academy Principal Veronica Coleman uses the event, which is put on by the Long Beach branch of the American Association of University Women, to make her pitch to students who might want to enroll.

“We’ve got a lot of young ladies here from the North of Long Beach and the Westside of Long Beach who don’t even know the school exists,” Coleman said.

“When they get into our classrooms and they see the rocketry that we’ve got going on, and they see the aerospace that we’ve got going on, and the flight simulator, and the wind tunnel and Anatomage table — when they see all of that stuff going on and they can meet our students, they can kind of see themselves as being here, where they didn’t even have that concept before.”

And after attending Friday’s conference, even girls who choose a different high school will have seen people like them doing jobs they might want to do. Hurtado said she noticed during a hospital internship that she was the only Latina working there, and it spurred her to keep pursuing her dream.

Long Beach Unified school board President Diana Craighead said events like the conference at Sato Academy help show girls they can succeed in math and science careers, even if their chosen field is dominated by men.

“We’re still a minority, that’s why it’s important,” Craighead said. “We still don’t make as much money as men — we need that representation.”