University of Texas at Dallas: New UTD Camp Encourages Girls To Explore Expansive World of STEM

Peering into the long wind tunnel at The University of Texas at Dallas, a group of high school students got a closer look at one of the many ways researchers use science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills to solve problems.

“The wind tunnel has a big fan that can generate the constant speed that you want, and that gives you a very good environment for testing,” Dr. Yaqing Jin, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, told the students. The facility tests wind turbines and a variety of other items — at wind speeds as high as those in tornadoes — for researchers and businesses.

The tour of the Boundary Layer and Subsonic Tunnel (BLAST) was one of the activities during UT Dallas’ new YWISE (Young Women in Science and Engineering) Investigators summer camp, which aims to interest more young women in STEM careers. The four-day camp featured tours of research labs, the UTDesign Studio and Blackstone LaunchPad, faculty presentations and college readiness activities.

The camp was presented by the Department of Community Engagement, part of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, in July with support from High-Tech High Heels, a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing the number of women working in STEM careers.

“This camp is an exciting opportunity for high school students to learn about the academic opportunities available to students at UT Dallas and the innovative research our faculty are engaged in,” said Raul Hinojosa Jr., interim assistant vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion and director of community engagement.

“It is also a way for the campers to learn about the many ways that STEM research and applications touch nearly every part of their life. Our hope is that the students will be excited about the possibility of enrolling here after their graduation from high school,” he said.

YWISE Investigators is a yearlong program that promotes scientific research and provides real-world research and design experience to increase high school students’ interest in STEM career opportunities. This year was the first time the program offered a summer camp.

Dr. Meenakshi Maitra, assistant professor of instruction in the Department of Biological Sciences and the scientific coordinator for the YWISE camp, was involved in the design of the scientific component and overall layout of the camp.

“The camp is geared toward making young girls realize that they have the power to design their own future. Our role as mentors is to lead the way in ensuring them to understand that there is nothing that they cannot achieve once they have set their minds upon it,” Maitra said. “The YWISE camp is an exposure to the enormous amount of research and development that happens within the walls of UTD to let them know that the sky is the limit.”

Ayesha Mayhugh, who serves on the board of directors of High-Tech High Heels’ North Texas chapter, said her organization supported the camp because women are underrepresented in the STEM workforce.

“Our goal is for all young women to have the opportunity to pursue the STEM career field of their choice, limited only by their imaginations,” Mayhugh said. “Programs such as YWISE not only raise awareness of what is possible, but also inspire the girls through valuable personal interactions with highly successful women in STEM while on the UTD campus.

“The hands-on experiences the camp provides encourage them to use their creativity, think innovatively and strengthen their critical thinking skills while having fun forming connections with other like-minded girls across the Metroplex.”

Camp participant Alexa Houle, a Plano, Texas, high school student who is interested in computer science, said the presentations from various researchers showed her new possibilities to think about for the future.

“The camp has opened my mind to research as well as the applications of computer science,” Houle said. “This was an amazing experience.”

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