Interactive Engineering Day Sparks Girls' Interest in STEM Careers
March 10, 2017
From left: Leslie Lemus, Gaby Hernandez, Maria Lopez and Kristen Herrera, all students at Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School in Dallas, built a safety alarm for joggers at Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day at UT Dallas.
Ninth-graders from Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School got their introduction to engineering in a plastic bag filled with wires, a plastic buzzer, a battery and duct tape.
The assignment: build an alarm for joggers to scare off an attacker and alert others.
“Engineers solve problems,” Mary Smith, a UT Dallas biomedical engineering senior who volunteered at the event, told the students. “We’re supposed to build an alarm system that’s as small as possible and easy to use. Go!”
The session was one of five activities for students at the University’s ninth annual Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day. Other groups of students built shelters and a moon rover.
The Galerstein Women’s Center and the Department of Community Engagement co-hosted the event in cooperation with the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science. The event is held in conjunction with national Engineers Week to encourage more female students to pursue degrees in science, technology, engineering and math. Nationwide, women earn about 20 percent of engineering degrees awarded, according to the National Science Foundation.
Watch students from the Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School in Dallas interact with UT Dallas students, faculty, staff and alumni as part of Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day. If you don't see the video, watch it on Vimeo.
In addition to hands-on activities, the event featured speakers from the TI Women’s Initiative, including UT Dallas alumna Fern Yoon BS’07 MS’08, who moderated panels with industry representatives.
As they worked in small groups to put together the jogger alarms, some Irma Lerma Rangel students said they already planned to study engineering. Others said they would consider going into the field.
“It’s fun to try to do stuff like this with my friends,” Kristen Herrera said. “We don’t usually get to do stuff like this in school.”
Her classmate, Victoria Puente, is already planning a career in engineering.
“I want to be a software engineer and go into intellectual property law,” said Puente, who said she became interested because of her mother’s work at a patent law firm.
“We set out to challenge girls’ perceptions, stereotypes and assumptions about STEM careers and spark interest in broad career possibilities.”
The experience got Ana Graciano thinking about the career path for the first time.
“I’m interested in becoming a criminal justice lawyer, but I hadn’t really experienced the engineering field before,” Graciano said. “I could be open to it.”
Smith, who will graduate this spring, said she hopes events like Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day will help more young women become interested in the field.
“It’s really special to encourage young people that it’s possible to do something that is generally thought of as hard,” Smith said.
Whether the students pursue engineering or not, the event aims to give young women information about possibilities they may not have considered, said Narcely Ruiz, assistant director of the Galerstein Women’s Center.
“We set out to challenge girls’ perceptions, stereotypes and assumptions about STEM careers and spark interest in broad career possibilities,” Ruiz said. “At least 65 girls left UT Dallas with something to think about and with confidence that they, too can become engineers.”