Teen Researchers Will Apply Ingenuity to Solve STEM Problems
Nov. 9, 2016
From left: Lake Highlands High School teacher Nick Witham; UT Dallas research assistant Lucero Ramirez; LHHS students Chellsie Rangel, Karen Mendoza, Blen Hussain and Benitia Kashala; and Dr. Yves Chabal, Texas Instruments Distinguished University Chair in Nanoelectronics.
A group of students from Lake Highlands High School in Dallas flipped through index cards pre-loaded with conversation icebreakers meant to better acquaint them with teammates and UT Dallas mentors who will be helping them with a science project throughout the fall and spring.
The team was one of 18 enrolled this year in the Young Women in Science and Engineering Investigators (YWISEI) program. Launched in 2012, the program encourages young women from the Dallas area to pursue careers in STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and math. During the fall and spring, the teams will design, develop and implement an innovative solution to a science and engineering problem.
“Women are underrepresented in STEM fields, both as students and as professionals. Women comprise a majority of college students and nearly half of the U.S. workforce, yet they are much less likely than their male counterparts to major in STEM fields and they represent less than a quarter of the STEM workforce,” said Dr. Magaly Spector, professor in practice and special assistant to the provost. “With this program, students gain meaningful insight into college life, the research process and career opportunities.”
The teams were introduced to their projects, which they will work on with UT Dallas graduate student and faculty mentors, high school teachers, and corporate and industry volunteers.
“I’m already interested in science as a career,” said Benitia Kashala, a Lake Highlands High School senior. “I want to become a nurse. I think this program will be really helpful to me.”
“It is so important for high school students, particularly under-represented students, to have role models. This opportunity also is excellent training for our PhD students. The most satisfying part of this process is seeing students go to college and be successful. I also want them to realize that women can be scientists.”
One of Benitia’s teammates, Blen Hussain, said she would like to study law eventually but decided to give YWISEI a try to broaden her experience in the sciences.
“I don’t actually know what science looks like outside of the classroom,” said Blen, a Lake Highlands High School senior. “So I wanted to know what it’s like to work on a project and have that hands-on experience.”
Benitia and Blen’s team will work on a project called “Water: The Fuel Cycle of the Future.” Other teams' projects range from building a wearable Bluetooth child locator to designing drones that monitor mosquito activity.
The group from Lake Highlands was paired with Lucero Ramirez, a chemistry graduate student and research assistant at UT Dallas. Ramirez said she volunteered to guide the teens in researching and implementing their project because she wants them to be as excited about the process as she is.
“It’s their first time, in many cases, to design and be in charge of a hands-on scientific project,” Ramirez said. “It’s an important step for them in understanding why science matters.”
Dr. Julia Chan, professor of chemistry, is advising a team that is working on a molecular gastronomy project. The students are experimenting with and observing chemical transformations in food during cooking.
This is the first year Chan has volunteered as a YWISEI faculty mentor. Previously, she has served as a judge at the final competition, when all of the teams submit their projects. One of her PhD students, Katherine Benavides, is serving as a graduate student mentor this year.
“It is so important for high school students, particularly under-represented students, to have role models,” Chan said. “This opportunity also is excellent training for our PhD students. The most satisfying part of this process is seeing students go to college and be successful. I also want them to realize that women can be scientists.”
YWISEI teams’ research will culminate this spring when they present their posters and make oral presentations at an event held on campus. Judges will evaluate the teams throughout the year with reports and milestones. Members of the top three teams will receive scholarships to attend UT Dallas.
The program is sponsored by the Texas Instruments Foundation, AT&T, Ericsson, Fluor Foundation, the National Science Foundation, and UT Dallas. Texas Instruments provided special training for the teams.
For more information about the program, contact Dr. Magaly Spector at (972) 883-7516 or [email protected].