Engineering Day Introduces Girls to Possibilities in STEM-Related Careers

UT Dallas alumna Fern Yoon BS’07, MS’08 shared her story with students from Irma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School during Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day. If you don’t see the video, watch it on Vimeo.

Like many high school freshmen, Daniela De La Cruz is trying to carve out a career path.

“I’m very confused as to what I want to do in the future,” she said. “I’m also very indecisive sometimes.”

De La Cruz, a student at Irma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School, attended Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day last month at UT Dallas, celebrated internationally during Engineers Week. Hosted by the Galerstein Gender Center and the Office of Diversity and Community Engagement, the event helps students like De La Cruz learn more about careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Daniela De La Cruz poses

Daniela De La Cruz

The girls participated in an on-campus day of hands-on activities, toured research labs, met UT Dallas students and interacted with female STEM professionals from Texas Instruments. The event was sponsored in cooperation with the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science and the Texas Instruments Women’s Initiative.

“I’m excited and curious to see what people are going to say here today. Maybe STEM is not what I expected. Maybe I’ve been a little bit too closed-minded about a career in a STEM field,” De La Cruz said.

“I’ve heard engineering has a lot to offer,” said Zoe Lopez, a classmate. “I just want to tip my toe in the water and see what it’s like before I actually make a decision.”

De La Cruz, Lopez and dozens of other students attended the annual event, now in its 10th year. It’s designed to encourage girls to consider STEM careers. Currently, women make up roughly 1 in 5 engineering students, and approximately 20 percent of the engineering workforce, according to the National Science Foundation.

The girls were met by student volunteers and professionals from Texas Instruments (TI), including UT Dallas alumna Fern Yoon BS’07, MS’08. Yoon, a product manager at TI, was a featured speaker and moderated a panel of industry representatives. She recounted what it was like wanting to pursue a career in science while growing up in Malaysia.

Fern Yoon

Fern Yoon BS’07, MS’08

“We weren’t discouraged from pursuing engineering, but we weren’t encouraged either,” she said. “I found engineering because I liked taking things apart and putting them back together. Whenever something broke, I liked to see if I could fix it. The most memorable was the busted VCR. I took it apart and put it back together, but it still didn’t work. However, it really got me excited and curious about engineering, even though I didn’t know what the word ‘engineering’ meant.”

She thinks girls sometimes receive not-so-subtle messages to stay out of STEM programs.

“I think society deters girls from pursuing scientific fields. You have teachers paying more attention to the boys on STEM-related topics and not so much the girls,” Yoon said. “And there’s always the comment girls get: ‘Oh, you like math?’ Like it’s surprising. They get the message loud and clear: ‘Oh, I’m not supposed to be good at this.’ ”

After listening to testimonies from female engineers, the girls enjoyed a dinner round-table and a lecture by Hidden Figures author Margot Shetterly, who spoke of the unsung heroes of race, gender, science and innovation. The whole day was impactful for De La Cruz, who said it’s changed the way she views the world and her future potential.

“I used to think that engineering was for a certain type of person and that females don’t fit that type,” she said. “But after today, I don’t think that way anymore. I feel engineering is something I should take into consideration. I think it’s something to look into.”

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

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