Young WISE Students Win Scholarships in Program Research Contest

Katie Pier, Pamela Hernandez and Sonia TOrres

Team SonsarP’s “Project FindIt” won first place in the Young Women in Science and Engineering Investigators program. From left: mentor Katie Pier BS’09, MS’10, an applications engineer at Texas Instruments, and participants Pamela Hernandez and Sonia Torres, both juniors at Irma Rangel Women’s Leadership School. Not pictured is Sara Mike, an Irma Rangel junior who also was on the team.

If you’ve ever had to search for misplaced car keys or the remote control that has gone missing, then you understand the inspiration for this year’s winning project in the Young Women in Science and Engineering Investigators (WISE) program at The University of Texas at Dallas.

The program, sponsored by UT Dallas’ Department of Diversity and Community Engagement and the Galerstein Women's Center, was created in 2012-13 to inspire and encourage Dallas-area female high school students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) through a yearlong research project.

“The Young WISE Investigators program provided these young ladies a fun and hands-on opportunity to explore science and engineering by conducting research in a similar fashion to undergraduates at UT Dallas,” said Raul Hinojosa Jr., director of Community Engagement. “The girls were able to see the direct impact engineers have in solving everyday challenges.”

The teenagers, who were from Irma Rangel Women’s Leadership School and Hillcrest High School Academy of Engineering, competed in teams to design, develop and implement the most innovative solution to a science and engineering problem related to school, home or the community.

The first-place team developed a prototype “FindIt” device that can locate and page items within a certain radius.

Young WISE Results

  • First Place – "Project FindIt," Team SonsarP

    Investigators: Sara Mike, Sonia Torres and Pamela Hernandez, juniors at Irma Rangel Young Women's Leadership School

    Mentors: Katie Pier, applications engineer, Texas Instruments, and Natasha Kharat, master’s in information technology student, UT Dallas

  • Second Place – "Compact Wheelchair Ramp," Team Xenon

    Investigators: Lucy Barrios, Blanca Alvarado and Jennifer Ramirez, sophomores at Hillcrest High School

    Mentors: Anand Anjati, applications engineer, M&M Specialties, and Ruchi Shah, senior, electrical engineering, UT Dallas

  • Third Place – "Radon Detector," Team RCCs

    Investigators: Rabina Mainali and Chase Crowder, juniors at Hillcrest High School

    Mentors: Melanie Sinclair, characterization engineer, Texas Instruments, and Avantika Tyagi, master’s in telecommunications student, UT Dallas

Sara Mike, a junior at Irma Rangel, said the experience helped her see what the research process is like in college and confirmed her desire to go into engineering.

“To win first place was a pretty good feeling — it was exciting — and I know that if it hadn't been for our industry mentor Katie Pier and UT Dallas mentor Natasha Kharat, plus the teamwork we had, we probably wouldn't have won first place,” Mike said.

Pier BS’09, MS‘10, an applications engineer at Texas Instruments, said through the student-mentor interaction the girls learned how to develop an engineering project: Start with a problem, then take steps to come up with a solution and make it work.

“Most of the girls had little to no programming experience, and this was a great opportunity to introduce them to the fundamentals of programming with a simple programming language,” said Pier, a 2005 McDermott Scholar and board member of the Eugene McDermott Scholars Alumni Association. “I know they learned a lot about the troubleshooting and debugging process, which is extremely important no matter what field you are going into.

“Projects rarely work 100 percent correctly the first time, and learning how to think in a methodical way to rule things out and get down to the underlying cause is a very important skill for any job.”

The second-place team developed a model of an automated portable ramp attached to the bottom of a wheelchair, and the third-place team built a prototype for a detector that calculates radon levels in a condensed area.

The participants presented their research with posters, and the judges ranked the projects based on criteria including thoroughness of research, experimental design and presentation.

Rabina Mainali, a junior at Hillcrest, returned to the program after placing first last year for her project on over-the-counter acne products and their effectiveness.

“I decided to be a part of this amazing program again because the first time I attended, I was given an opportunity to learn and expose myself to STEM fields that I might be interested in in the future,” Mainali said.

“This time, I was able to learn the different fields of engineering and science that UTD offers for its students. Overall, I just wanted to broaden my horizons and learn more about UTD because it is one of the colleges I am interested in attending after my senior year.”

Each member from the top three teams received a UT Dallas scholarship, which ranged from $1,000 for third place and $1,500 for second place to $2,000 for first place.

The program was funded by gifts from Texas Instruments Foundation and Dr. Yves Chabal, department head of Materials Science and Engineering in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science.

Hinojosa said plans are underway to launch the third year of the program in late summer.

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

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