Wise beyond years

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated what branch of the university sponsored WISE. The Mercury regrets this error.

Program helps young women enter fields of technology, math

A 4-year-old program sponsored by the President’s office allows UTD students, professors, industry professionals and high school teachers to mentor female students from local schools while they work on a yearlong science research project.

The Young Women in Science and Engineering program lasts from September to April. This year, female students will meet with their mentors on Sept. 19 and will begin their projects afterward.

Last year, some of these projects included making a video game, making an animated movie and creating a pill dispenser.

Magaly Spector, the assistant to the president of strategic initiatives, is in charge of the Young WISE program. Spector is focused on empowering girls at the age where they are first exposed to math and science, which is often in high school. This is the age range the WISE program targets.

“The program was a sound success this year, growing from three teams to ten teams of three students from low socioeconomic families,” Spector said. “It will be funded by Texas Instruments, Ericsson, Fluor and National Science Foundation this year and will be getting better than last year.”

Spector said the program would be different this year due to the addition of other high schools and an increase in funding.

“We have another district joining and a new high school, Uplift Peak Charter,” she said. “We also got an increase of $15,000 funding over last year ($35,000 last year and $50,000 this year) from new donors.”

UTD students served as mentors to these groups of girls while they completed their projects. Amanda Wall, a senior interdisciplinary studies student and a member of the WISE program, described how the girls changed after speaking to women at the Ericsson North American headquarters in Plano.

“They explored the facility, learned about different career options and participated in a panel,” Wall said. “The panel allowed them to ask questions and hear the stories of successful women in STEM fields. I think that really opened up their eyes to all the possibilities available to them, regardless of gender or race.”

Wall and her team faced challenges along the way, but as they neared the end of their projects, their excitement grew.

“It was lot of work keeping the girls on track with their research, but seeing how excited they became as we got closer to the results was incredible,” Wall said.

She explained how her students succeeded in finishing their projects and how they are all now interested in entering STEM fields.

“They went on to complete their project and have each expressed interest in pursuing science related degrees,” Wall said. “In fact, three of my girls have already registered for a computer science class offered at their school next year.”

Sonia Torres, an incoming computer science freshman, participated in the WISE program her junior and senior year of high school. Torres said that she has always been interested in math and science, but felt afraid to pursue STEM. She said that meeting women in STEM made her feel less afraid.

“It seemed kind of scary,” Torres said. “Meeting professionals took (that) fear away.”

Wall said the WISE program acts as a way to help girls overcome these types of challenges.

“I think that Young WISE and similar programs are great steps working toward overcoming these biases and encouraging young girls to seek careers in science where they are markedly underrepresented,” she said.

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