Engineering is commonly known as a male-dominated profession. But The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s College of Engineering and Computer Science is striving to shift that demographic and break stigmas by inspiring young women to become engineers.
On Thursday, during its first Engineering Week Girl Day, more than 30 high school girls, all students from Progreso and Weslaco, visited the UTRGV Edinburg Campus for a day dedicated exclusively to sparking their interests in a field in which women continue to be underrepresented.
During Girl Day, students took part in numerous activities, such as live demonstrations, hands-on activities and presentations, all presented by UTRGV engineering faculty.
Edna Orozco, lecturer in the Manufacturing and Industrial Engineering Department and one of the faculty members who helped organize the event, said seeing accomplished female engineers can be enough to suppress the stigma behind women in STEM.
“They usually think of men as being smarter than women, but when they see our female faculty presenting their projects, they think, ‘Wow. Well, I can do the same,’” Orozco said.
As the students filed into the Engineering Building, they were greeted by the faces of UTRGV’s female engineering faculty displayed on a large TV screen at the entrance.
“If you see the actual field of engineering, we aren’t that many,” Orozco said. “It’s our duty to instill this into the girls, and that’s why we do these activities.”
At the beginning, only one girl said she was interested in engineering, Orozco said. But after the first presentation, the number spiked to eight.
Jackie Valenzuela, a senior at Progreso High School and soon-to-be UTRGV freshman, said attending “Girl Day” changed the way she looks at engineering, and has inspired her to explore the field when she starts college.
“When I first got here, engineering wasn’t something I was particularly interested in,” she said. “Now, it’s something that I’m really looking forward to studying. I used to only associate engineering with cars and things like that, but now I know that you can work with clothes, makeup or just daily things that you find problems with. If you have the mentality to find a solution, then you can achieve it.”
Engineering Week started Sunday, Feb. 18, and continues into Saturday, Feb. 24, on the Edinburg Campus. Organizers say the weeklong event is an opportunity to reach out to young students so they can visit the university and see what engineering is all about.
For more information on Engineering Week, visit http://www.discovere.org/our-programs/engineers-week.