UT Dallas Program Promotes STEM Careers for Young Women

Young Women in Engineering Science

Sarahi Hernandez (center), from Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School, explains her team’s project, "Make Your Own Animated Movie," to judges during a poster competition for the Young Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Investigators program. She and her teammates, sisters Rosa and Maria Mendoza, placed third at the contest.

While women represent half of all college-educated workers in the United States, a National Science Board report says women made up just 28 percent of science and engineering workers in 2010.

A UT Dallas program is hoping to make a dent in those statistics by exposing young women to opportunities in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.

The Young Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Investigators program provides mentoring and coaching for lower-income, minority high school students, with the goal of promoting science and engineering careers for young women. Recently, Young WISE culminated the year’s activities with a poster competition at the UT Dallas campus, awarding scholarships and recognizing successful teams.

Dr. Magaly Spector, who coordinates the program through the Office of the President, said Young WISE is unique because of its thorough mentoring component and its focus on the entire school year.

“This program is designed to be a one-year program where the girls have the time to reflect, inquire and learn at a slower pace about science and engineering,” Spector said.

In addition, team members are surrounded by an advisory board of mentors who provide coaching and mentoring as the teams develop project ideas.

“It takes more than one mentor to really help a team of students succeed, so this program has four mentors for each team,” Spector said.

The mentors provide teams with insights from a number of perspectives:

  • College Mentors: Usually UT Dallas grad students who are closer in age to the high school students than the other mentors.
  • Industry Mentors: Mostly females from industry who help the students see the exciting things that can happen after majoring in STEM fields.
  • Faculty Mentors: A faculty member from UT Dallas who helps with the project, shows students labs on campus, and explains what they will learn in college.
  • Teacher Mentors: A science teacher from the student’s school who encourages her and helps with the project on an everyday basis.

Ten teams participated in the recent poster contest, with each member of the winning team receiving a $2,000 UT Dallas scholarship. Members of the second-place team each received a $1,500 UT Dallas scholarship and members of the third-place team each received a $1,000 scholarship.

Natalie Mata, a high school junior, partnered with other students at the Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School in Dallas on a presentation about a solar-powered charger. She said it changed her thinking about her future career.

“At first, I wasn’t thinking about a career in engineering,” Mata said. “But once I did the project, I thought, ‘This actually is pretty cool.’ You can just do so much with (STEM training).  So I am really considering this now. It’s one of my options.”

Young WISE Results

  • First Place – “Fault in our Signals”

    Students: Samantha Montoya, Beverly Balusa and Maria Valdez from Dallas ISD’s Science and Engineering Magnet School

    Mentors: Kavya Nagaraj, business analytics grad student; Colleen Ogana, industry mentor from Ericsson; Dr. Rashaunda Henderson, associate professor of electrical engineering; Jose Gonzalez, teacher mentor

  • Second Place – “Save Yourself from Sunburn”

    Students: Madison Kate, Kimberly Herrera and Sonya Torres from Irma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School

    Mentors: Ana Gabriela Montano, materials science grad student; Sonia Chib, industry mentor from Ericsson; Dr. Yves Chabal, professor of materials science and engineering; Daniel Brown, teacher mentor

  • Third Place – “Make Your Own Animated Movie”

    Students: Rosa Mendoza, Maria Mendoza and Sarahi Hernandez from Irma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School

    Mentors: Brittany Jones and Kelly Weeren, Arts and Technology (ATEC) grad students; Todd Fechter, associate professor of ATEC; Monica Hsiang, industry mentor from Ericsson; Daniel Williamson, teacher mentor

Mata’s teammate, Denise Garcia, agreed. “We need more women in the STEM fields, and I hope I can be one of them eventually,” she said.

Dr. Lindsay King, an associate professor of physics and a judge of the poster program, said Young WISE is a great way to build enthusiasm for math and science, as well as research, among the students.

“You’re actually participating in what looked to me to be very interesting, high-quality research projects,” King said. “And I think it’s a great encouragement for young women.”

While the program is open to boys and girls, its focus is on promoting science and engineering careers for girls.

“We need the boys to encourage the girls to get into science and engineering,” Spector said.

Spector emphasized that the Young WISE program is for high school students whose families fall into low socioeconomic situations.

“At home, most of these girls don’t have anyone in their family who is a scientist or engineer — someone from whom they can get help or advice. In this program they are surrounded by role models,” she said.

In all, 51 students from Dallas high schools participated in the 2014-2015 Young WISE program. Spector said the 2015-2016 program will begin soon.

The YWISE program was funded by gifts from Texas Instruments Foundation, the Hirsch Family Foundation and a number of individual donors. Ericsson also participated in the program by providing 12 industry mentors and hosting students on their campus, and Fluor provided judges and helped select poster finalists.

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