UTD: Junior High Girls Head to College to Tackle Innovation, Information Technology

UT Dallas offers programs to introduce junior high girls to STEM

UTD

Two events this spring will give junior high school girls hands-on experience in careers that await them.

These events, both on The University of Texas at Dallas campus, are reaching girls well before most of them have begun to think about college and focus on areas that are under-represented by women in the workforce.

GIRLS IN STEM

New at UT Dallas this year is the STEM Symposium for G.I.R.L.S. This two-day event, April 7-8, gives females in seventh, eighth and ninth grades an opportunity to learn about the exploding field of information technology from women currently in the field. The conference is being underwritten by High-Tech High Heels, whose mission aims to close the gender gap in science, technology, engineering, and math.

“This UT Dallas camp was interesting to us for two reasons. For one, it’s the first program we’ve seen that is targeted to IT, and we think it’s great for girls to be introduced to IT careers,” says Laura Steffek, with the High-Tech High Heels grant committee. “For another, this is a program for middle school girls. We know that middle school is a time when girls start leaking out of the STEM pipeline, and it’s important to reach out to girls at this age.”

The symposium covers what IT professionals do and includes hands-on opportunities in UT Dallas’ computer labs. Meals and supplies are included in the $60 fee, and scholarships are available.

“Women in STEM begins with girls in STEM,” says Dawn Owens, Ph.D., director of the BS/Information Technology and Systems program at Jindal School. “When I was in college, I originally thought I was interested in accounting because I liked solving problems and working with numbers. I was also very interested in using computers to support business. … A very wise advisor introduced me to the field of information technology and systems – a technical degree in the business school.”

“We know that middle school is a time when girls start leaking out of the STEM pipeline, and it’s important to reach out to girls at this age.”
Laura Steffek

GIRLS IN BUSINESS

The second event, Girls Going Places, is a one-day program, April 24, based on a national curriculum that focuses on financial literacy and entrepreneurship.

By playing games, junior high girls will learn about the possibilities and pitfalls of starting a business.

Since first offered at the Naveen Jindal School of Management in 2015, the program has filled every participant seat, with girls remaining on the waitlist each year. Professional business women volunteer for the day to serve as mentors. Some mentoring slots are still available. Underwritten by Capital One, Girls Going Places is free for participants.

As with IT, women are under-represented in the entrepreneurial field, according to the National Women’s Business Council, with a bit more than 36 percent of businesses in the U.S. owned by women. According to the council, Texas ranks second in the nation for the highest number of woman-owned firms, with more than 866,700. That number accounts for almost 9 percent of all woman-owned businesses in the nation. (California tops the nation with 1.3 million woman-owned businesses, representing 13 percent of the woman-owned businesses in the U.S.)

“As part of our Future Edge initiative, we are committed to helping women and girls expand the skills, tools, and resources they need to succeed in the 21st century,” said Shafiq Kassam, vice president for software engineering with Capital One. “Capital One is proud to be the sponsor of the Girls Going Places event, as well as the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at UT Dallas. Through these courses, young entrepreneurs can broaden their creativity and technical abilities today to be the inventive pioneers of tomorrow.”

“As with IT, women are under-represented in the entrepreneurial field.”
National Women’s Business Council

BRIDGING THE GENDER GAP

Research shows that girls as young as 6, start believing they aren’t as smart as their male peers. And in early elementary school, they are less likely than boys to say that their own gender is “really, really smart,” and less likely to opt-in to a game described as being for super-smart kids.

According to a 2016 U.S. Census Bureau report, the percentage of women in information technology careers in the U.S. has declined from a peak of about 31 percent in 1990. Now, about 25 percent of IT professionals are female and their earnings statistically lag behind men’s earnings regardless of what IT area they are in. “I have long desired to educate young women and encourage them to do what they are passionate about and not let stereotypes affect their decisions,” Owens says. “I want them to feel confident in their abilities and that they can do whatever they set their mind to.”

“I have long desired to educate young women and encourage them to do what they are passionate about and not let stereotypes affect their decisions,” Owens says. “I want them to feel confident in their abilities and that they can do whatever they set their mind to.”

“My husband and I have three daughters, and two of them pursued science topics in college,” said Laura Lazarescou, also on the High-Tech High Heels grant committee. “We saw firsthand the pressure our girls experienced to ‘not stand out’ during their middle school years. Whatever we can do to help girls find a sense of community and pride in their study of math and science will help close the gender gap.”

Follow Naveen Jindal School of Management at the University of Texas at Dallas on Twitter @jindal_utdallas.


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