UT Dallas Strives to Encourage, Support Female STEM Students

New Program for High School Girls Will Provide Mentorship, Project Work and Scholarships

May 15, 2012

Dr. Yves Chabal and Doctoral Student Ana Salas-Villasenor

Dr. Yves Chabal (left) was the recipient of the ACS Award for Encouraging Women Into Careers in Chemical Science. The prize money will go toward UT Dallas' efforts to boost women in STEM. Texas Instruments has matched the funds to encourage more students like Ana Salas-Villasenor, who was a recipient of a diversity fellowship from Texas Instruments.

 

UT Dallas doctoral student Ana Salas-Villasenor spends her days in a laboratory researching materials to create more flexible electronic devices. She said pursuing engineering was difficult at first because the field has traditionally been geared toward men.

“I need help using the equipment, not because I didn’t have the skills to use the machines, but because the large size of the machines was designed with men in mind,” she said.

After completing her PhD next year, Salas-Villasenor hopes to work in a science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) field, where her gender will probably be underrepresented. Even though women make up nearly half of the workforce in the United States and half of the college-educated workforce, they hold less than 25 percent of jobs in STEM fields, according to a 2011 government report.

“In order for the U.S. to remain technologically competitive in a global marketplace, we need the creativity and contributions of females in STEM fields,” said Dr. Magaly Spector, vice president for Diversity and Community Engagement, and a  physicist and engineer by training.

Dr. Magaly Spector

Dr. Magaly Spector is vice president for Diversity and Community Engagement.

As a recipient of a diversity fellowship from Texas Instruments, Salas-Villasenor has gained access to cutting-edge research in materials science throughout the world. Her potential success in a STEM field is part of an inclusive approach at UT Dallas. University leadership, departments and individuals contribute to that environment, and the Office of Diversity and Community Engagement administers a proactive pipeline to boost female participation.

Current programs include Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day. During the one-day event, high school girls visit UT Dallas and are exposed to STEM programs.

Recent gifts from a private donor, the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation, and matching funds from Texas Instruments are being used to create the year-long Young Women Science Achiever program. The program allows high school females, mentored by faculty and industrial partners, to work on a science project throughout the school year. Their progress will be showcased during the newly initiated Women in STEM conference, slated for Spring 2013. The top three students will be offered scholarships to attend UT Dallas, where they will be  further mentored by college students, industry professionals and faculty to become sought-after employees in industry.

Dr. Mark  W. Spong

Dr. Mark Spong, dean of the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science.

“The Young Women Science Achievers program not only leverages the existing Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day initiative, but also provides mentoring to students at UT Dallas from senior peers, faculty and industrial partners throughout their undergraduate career,” Spector said. “UT Dallas is unique in sponsoring such a comprehensive pipeline to create a supportive environment for women in STEM fields. Reaching women in high school helps demystify science-related fields at a younger, more formative age, so girls will know they can be included in STEM fields and still have a rewarding personal life.”

The seed money for Young Women Science Achiever program was initiated by Dr. Yves Chabal, head of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and recipient of the 2012 ACS Award for Encouraging Women Into Careers in Chemical Sciences. Chabal, holder of the Texas Instruments Distinguished University Chair in Nanoelectronics, is the first man to receive the award since its creation. The Dreyfus Foundation established the award, with the winner being selected by the American Chemical Society, one of the world’s largest scientific societies.

The prize includes a $10,000 grant from the Dreyfus Foundation to be given to an organization of the recipient’s choice. In this case, the funds will be used to further UT Dallas’ efforts to boost women in STEM fields. With the generous match from Texas Instruments, the donation totals $30,000. The program is expected to be sustained by future support from other industrial partners and donors interested in promoting women in STEM fields.

Dr. Spector said the support of the majority in STEM fields – white men – was crucial for creating inclusive educational and work environments for girls and women.

“Males can be great mentors and champions of women in STEM fields,” Spector said. 

Chabal, whose lab is nearly 50 percent women, said he supports all of his students, regardless of gender. Two female recipients of TI diversity fellowships from his department have recently been hired by TI. Chabal said including the perspectives of women, along with men, is the key to innovation.

Dr. Mark W. Spong, dean of the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science, agrees.       

“Diversity helps us solve problems,” he said. “In science of all fields, creativity from different approaches, different experiences, different backgrounds, is absolutely essential.”

Including women in STEM fields is not only logical, but a practical matter, he said.

“If only a certain number of people can contribute to science, and that number is cut by half, then 50 percent of the possible workforce is excluded,” Spong said. “We are limiting ourselves by not broadening the participation to all groups, particularly in Texas. It is important to realize that UT Dallas provides a supportive environment for women and other underrepresented groups in STEM fields.”


Media Contact: LaKisha Ladson, UT Dallas, (972) 883-4183, lakisha.ladson@utdallas.edu
or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, newscenter@utdallas.edu.

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