Girls take aim at STEM careers at UH event
Girls crowded around 3D printers, EEG machines, tables with code and brain waves Saturday, as they watched in awe as college students and professors explained how they want to use technology in the future in careers that need more women.
The University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering swarmed with girls Saturday during the fourth annual Chevron Girls Engineering the Future STEM Day. The event encourages girls to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“The field is getting better, but it’s still somewhat unbalanced,” said Emily McGovern, the main organizer of the event and the Cullen College of Engineering’s director of engineering relations. “A lot of the time, girls feel like they’re not really encouraged the same way to go into STEM fields and there’s so many jobs out there and such a good education you can get and it’s a great career path.”
STEM fields represent some of the fastest-growing and more lucrative career fields for college graduates, but, just 35 percent of bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields are awarded to women, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Women account for just 8 percent of mechannical enginners and just 25 percent of computer occupations, according to the Pew Research Center.
The UH event hopes to grab the interest of elementary- and middle-school aged girls who are technically included by showing them some of the more advanced work STEM majors at UH are doing.
One of the labs allowed students to put on an electroencephalogram (EEG) headset and control the movement and colors of light panels in the ceiling of one of the rooms. The headset, which was built almost entirely by Eric Todd, an electrical engineering student, records the brainwaves of the wearer, runs a code which produces a static music from the computer speakers along with the color and the movement of the lights in the room.
“I’m trying to correlate and put the things together and see what certain thinking and movement would affect it,” said Leah Tran, 14, who tried on the helmet.
The machine, while made for more creative purposes, is also being used to research how the brain works. Information gained from it could be used to help those with neurological differences.
“It can be used to train paraplegics people with PTSD, people with anxiety, anyone with a condition that can be treated through neurological training,” said engineering doctoral candidate Jesus Cruz-Garcia. “For me, deeper than that, we can use it to understand how brains work.”
Another activity that interested the girls was 3D printing. The girls passed around models of landscapes and characters from popular movies the college students had printed previously.
“You would tell the computer to do something and it would do it,” said Kennedy Keller. “It was really cool to see what human minds and computer minds can do.”
Attendees ranged from those who had little experience in the science and math fields to those who have coded, built robotics and attended similar events.
“I went to this camp, it had a lot of stuff like art, science, stuff like that,” said Rachel Coronado, 13. “There was a Lego robotics course. It was precoded, so all we had to do was change the movements and edit what his steps were.”
Coronado has also coded HTML websites before, but says she is still unsure on a career path.
The event was created after a Chevron employee went to a similar event at the University of Texas at Austin and reached out to UH wanting to collaborate to create something similar.
The university’s aim to help women in STEM does not stop at the Chevron Girls Engineering the Future STEM Day, but continues for their college students through their Women in Engineering program, which helps connect current students with alumnae who will give them tips on what it is like to be a woman in certain fields.
“We try to bring women back who are in the industry and are alumnae of the college and take time for them to network with the students,” said McGovern. “That way we can build comradery because they’re able to relay information to our students and tell them, ‘Look, it is going to be difficult, especially if you’re going into certain disciplines that you really are going to be in a male-dominated field, so these are some of the pitfalls to maneuver.’”