Why not more girls?

MERCEDES — Yesterday’s event to encourage girls and women to pursue professions in the sciences brings up a number of questions — and answers.

The Science Academy of South Texas yesterday held its first GEMS (Girls in Engineering, Math, and Science) Camp. It hosted 40 girls who dove eagerly into science projects while teachers and high school students guided them.

The children’s industrious nature and their level of focus clearly indicated they weren’t there to play around. They wanted science, not just as a subject, but as an experience where they could use their analytical minds and strengthen their powers for problem solving.

In fact, Science Academy Principal Irma Castillo pointed out that very skill. The world needs problem solvers, and women are a vital resource in that endeavour. She and other teachers at the school expressed some frustration about the lack of women in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields.

She’s not sure why so many girls shy away from STEM studies as they get older.

“I don’t know if it’s something we do, maybe guide boys into the STEM and girls into health sciences,” she said.

She elaborated by saying it could be a subconscious tendency by men and women. Many possible reasons have been proposed, but one thing seems clear to all educators: girls need to be encouraged to pursue the STEM professions if they so choose. Events such as these are a way of doing just that.

Numerous Science Academy students like Karina Hinojosa, a senior, served as ambassadors to the burgeoning young scientists and also as examples. As each session started, the ambassador identified themselves and shared their plans for the future.

Karina, 17, told the children she plans to study astrophysics. She’s already been accepted into the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Activities such as these are exactly the way to get started.

“I remember doing these projects when I was in middle school,” she said. “I tell them that everything you see around you was made by engineers. If they want to make the world a better place, they should start learning now.”

She didn’t get this support when she was younger.

“I didn’t have many people telling me I could do this,” she said.

She hesitated to say it was deliberate.

“I think it’s more about people’s assumptions,” she said. “They’re probably unaware.”

Leanna Leal, 11, is already considering a STEM profession.

“I am not 100 percent sure,” she said. “But this science project helps me figure that out. I want to do something with engineering. I really love chemistry.”