EDINBURG — Hundreds of local mothers and daughters Wednesday descended upon the University of Texas-Pan American as part of Latina Day during the 12th annual Hispanic, Engineering, Science and Technology week.
About 400 high school girls and 240 of their mothers visited the university and took part in events that encouraged the next generation of women to pursue degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics — known as the STEM fields.
“This is the most emotional day we have,” UTPA President Robert Nelsen said. “It’s a good chance for the mothers and daughters to talk about their future. Most of these mothers have never been on campus before … but it’s a chance so that they can begin to dream about what their daughters’ futures will be like.”
That encouragement for young women to enter STEM fields is greatly needed, as there has long been a scarcity of women in technological industries.
Only 28 percent of all science and technology jobs are occupied by women, according to a 2013 report by the National Science Foundation. Despite making up 8 percent of the population, Latina women account for a mere 2 percent of all science and technology jobs.
“HESTEC has opened her mind to many different degrees,” said Florence Presas of La Feria, who was in attendance with daughter Monica. “At first she was looking at only one field, but now she’s beginning to see all of the possible options.”
“I like the people who speak,” said Monica, 14. “They inspire you to do what you want to do in life.”
At the beginning of the “Latinas in Engineering and Technology” seminar, the attending girls were asked if they wanted to get a degree in an engineering-related field.
Only six of 40 girls’ hands went up.
“Hispanic girls aren’t getting the knowledge, inspiration and encouragement they need to see math and science as the keys to a great future,” said Samantha Silvas, UTPA’s first female computer science graduate. “Parents … never underestimate the power and influence you have regarding your children’s choices in school.”
The presenters engaged with the young women and gave a hands-on engineering lesson. They also detailed the benefits and increased pay for those with engineering degrees. At the end of the seminar, the group of young women were once again asked if they would consider pursuing a STEM degree.
More than twice as many hands went up in the air.