Student and Local Organizations Inspire Next Generation of Scientists at UT’s STEM Girl Day

A girl and her father visit an exhibit demonstrating the buoyancy of golf balls.

Millie Bobby Brown’s turbine-like hooks, which spin in a move called “The Whack Attack,” get stuck on Turtle’s bumper, and the match comes to a standstill. “Surface Pressure” from Disney’s Encanto blares throughout what is normally a quiet lecture classroom, echoing down the hallway.

Six kids in pink leis, sparkly capes, pinstripe fedoras, and tiaras stand over robots Millie Bobby Brown and Turtle, waiting for a sudden movement, something to indicate their creation won. Aliyah Zavala, ringmaster of today’s wrestler-themed fight, hesitantly suggests separating the robots and beginning round two.

“Is Millie Bobby Brown going to make Ohio proud? Or will Turtle get it with its special move, The Tornadooooo?” Zavala, the multi-generational programs coordinator of the nonprofit organization Latinitas, says from underneath the brim of her black fireman’s hat.

Within seconds of detachment, Millie Bobby Brown uses its yellow and gray Lego hooks to shove Turtle out of the ring and onto the floor.

“Team Millie Bobby Brown wins the cash prize and will spend it on 10 helicopters!” Zavala shouts.

STEM Girl Day at the University of Texas takes place every February and offers free and hands-on science, technology, engineering, and math exhibits and activities to elementary and middle school students. At the event, kids may code, name Lego battle robots, or eat cotton candy while discussing the qualities of the fiber holding its shape.

Each activity and table is hosted by a different volunteer organization, whose blue-T-shirt-clad members cover every corner. Latinitas, which promotes STEM education for girls ages 9 to 14, partnered with the nonprofit Science In A Suitcase to put on the robot battle.

“We wanted to present an activity to the girls to try to get them more involved,” says Latinitas community development coordinator Madison Post, BS ’19. “We are trying to increase [the Latino] demographic [in STEM] and tell them that they are valued and heard, and that they can pursue these careers.”

A Girl Scout shakes a bag of cream and ice to make ice cream.

After loving their experience last year, Reyna Guevara and her two kids, 9-year-old Melody and 5-year-old Selvin, have decided to make STEM Girl Day a family tradition as long as UT offers it. Melody and Selvin were so excited for this year that they created a countdown as soon as they found out their mom registered them. Melody even insisted on getting her nails painted in honor of UT, with each nail switching off between white and orange and a “U” on her middle finger and a “T” on her ring finger on both hands. Obviously, Melody wants to attend UT.

“I want them to be exposed to the University at a young age, so they want to go to college, they want to go and study and find whatever they’re passionate about,” Guevara says.

As a third-grade teacher, Guevara is always looking for ways to get her children interested in anything academic.

“When [Melody] was smaller, this is how I started: ‘You got to save the mermaids!’” Guevara says. “She was so excited, and she would tell her friends, ‘I’m going to study marine biology and save the mermaids.’”

Students play with leftover dry ice.

Like Guevara, moms Andrea Nelson and Elizabeth Meador hope the event will rub off on their daughters. They came to UT with their Girl Scout troop — even though it’s hard to tell, as all the girls immediately ditched their light brown vests, stuffing them in their bags or handing them off to their parents because, as Nelson says, “[They’re] in middle school.”

“I’m hopeful that either of my daughters will be interested in STEM,” Nelson says. “I’m always [trying to teach STEM] at home. I’m like, ‘Oh, well that seems a little like engineering,’ or, ‘I guess what we’re doing here is civil engineering [or] architecture.’”

Nelson’s daughter, Apollonia, a sixth grader who sports bright blue hair, a neon orange shirt, and snake-print leggings, fittingly wants to be an astronaut and is interested in everything astrophysics.

“Did you know your blood will boil in space without a spacesuit?” Apollonia asks.

Meador’s daughter, Amazing Meador Barnes, quickly corrects her friend: “It cold boils.”

Apollonia takes everything space related very seriously, even if her facts sound like science fiction.

“Did you know there’s an element that’s super rare in space?” Apollonia says. “Oxygen. We take it for granted.”

Nelson and Meador, who each also have older daughters who have aged out of STEM Girl Day, have been attending the event for around seven years now. When Nelson found out about it, she didn’t care what her daughters’ inclinations toward STEM were—she knew they had to attend.

“When I was a kid, I felt like the sciences were a competition on who you could bore to death, and then whoever was left paying attention, you’re like, ‘Those are the scientists!’” Nelson says after she and Apollonia emerge from the Physics Circus. “Whereas, it really should be just relaying the excitement of [science], and how it really is the entire world around you. Like the [Physics Circus speaker] said, ‘What is science? It’s the desire to explore the physical world around you.’ So, this is amazing.”

Students watch as a volunteer prepares to make ice cream in a bag.

CREDIT: Courtesy of Women in Stem at the University of Texas at Austin (6)


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