Category: Spotlight

Spotlight: Niki, DCC Alumna

Niki is a Design Connect Create! physics camp alumna (2015), just starting her senior year
at Allen High School. She joined us over coffee to share her career ambitions and the impact that DCC has had on her path.

NikiHTHH: When did you attend DCC and how did you hear about it?

Niki: I attended DCC at UT Dallas between my sophomore and junior years. My teacher told me about a few camps, and I didn’t have plans for the summer so I said, why not? I heard about both DCC and also a physics camp for both girls and boys. My teacher specifically recommended DCC, the all girls camp, since she thought I would have a better experience being with other girls and maybe could inspire the other girls too. I’m not one to back down when I am passionate about something.

HTHH: Were you thinking about career choices at that point?

Niki: I was definitely thinking about it because we had to pick a track early on in high school. I went to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics website to see what careers were most lucrative, and engineering easily came up to the top. The first year classes were really boring—concepts of engineering, paperwork, how to design, learning about other people’s work. Sophomore year was when we started our design process class. We were making rockets, but I didn’t understand the physics behind them yet. I wanted to dig into the hard stuff like what happens in the real world with changes in altitude and wind resistance.

HTHH: It sounds like you liked the hands-on applications. What kind of fun activities did you do at DCC?

Niki: We made a hoverboard out of a leafblower and a big slab of wood. Two people got on it and we pushed it across the parking lot kind of like bumper cars, which was really cool. We launched projectiles with toy guns and launched stuff and calculated the distances. It was really cool to line up our estimations with reality. We made ice cream with liquid nitrogen. It tasted like Dippin’ Dots. And, we visited the DLP lab at TI and got to see a MEMs chip up close.

We also got to meet a lot of engineers. The camp was a really good eye opener for what physics was going to be. You weren’t graded, so you could experiment and try to understand without worrying about memorizing formulas to get a good grade. That camp really encouraged me to think.

HTHH: Had you met a lot of engineers before?

Niki: Before the physics camps, I’d seen maybe two or three engineers come speak at our school. I didn’t really identify with them because it felt like they were recruiting us and they didn’t really try to connect with us. Also, they were all male. The camp speakers were people I could identify with and relate to.

HTHH: How do you think the physics camp affected your following year of high school?

Niki: After the physics camp, I was really inspired to take a harder (AP) physics course. Wow, this is the only thing that’s actually stumped me. I’m a straight-A student, and physics was the first time I actually had to try and work. And in the end I didn’t even care about the grade because I was having so much fun (but I got an A, big time). I loved it because no other classes challenged me like that. I felt like I was more prepared for physics, and I wanted to dig deeper into the stuff I didn’t know as much about. I’m the kind of person with a mentality that if something is easy it’s boring. So far, I haven’t hit that wall in physics yet. I just kept asking, do you have any more of these circuit papers I can read?

HTHH: How do you think your camp experience would have been different if it was mixed gender, just like your normal high school classes?girls

Niki: In my high school engineering class the first year there were 4 girls out of 42 students,
the second year had only one out of 30 students, and then for the third year I was the only girl out of 20 students. So I’m used to being the only girl and the guys respect you for being the only girl there, but I felt a lot more comfortable in this camp of all girls knowing I’m not the only one out there. It was very reassuring to meet other girls who have passion for difficult subjects. I’m not shy to raise my hand or tell a boy that he’s wrong.

HTHH: Are you still in touch with any of those girls?

Niki: I’m still friends with two girls from camp. One lives in Plano and we text, and another lives in Indiana.

HTHH: So you’re going into your senior year. What are your thoughts on college? Are you getting lots of recruitment mail?

Niki: I get so much recruitment mail, I just let it go straight to recycling. I started setting up accounts at MIT, Georgia Tech, University of Maryland, UT Austin and Berkeley. I’ve been leaning towards aerospace engineering but I have a conflicting interest with chemical engineering because it’s applicable to more fields.

HTHH: What do you do for fun outside of school? Any extracurriculars or clubs?

Niki: After the physics camp I got involved in FIRST (robotics). One of my friends—at the time the only girl on the team—was badgering me to join because they had only four people. I taught them how to do physics like torque of motors, angles in triangles, trajectories. I was the systems engineer so I worked on everything from coding to building to planning/3d modeling. I worked on a climbing mechanism to scale a tower. We needed to do things like capture the tower, go over obstacles get over a rock wall however high, or lift a drawbridge or open a sallyport, low goal into a high goal of shooting into a tower. We deployed a hook to get the robot to climb.

HTHH: That’s great! Anything else?

Niki: During junior year I was taking online courses provided by NASA. I heard about it from John Harkins, who was one of the speakers at the camp. I learned about space, space suits, coding, basic physics, algebra, calculus, scientific method, interplanetary interaction and interstellar travel. The courses were supposed to be one hour long, but they were actually about two hours long with all the work involved. Each sub module had its own project with engineering and math problem sets—designing in CAD, design a machine, etc. An engineer from Johnson Space center would grade the homework and projects. I was one of the top 50 who got to go to a week-long camp. We toured their center and talked to NASA engineers, and we made our own rockets.

HTHH: Sounds awesome. So how do you feel about a career in engineering now after going through all these cool experiences?

Niki: I’m definitely still interested in being an engineer, but now it’s not just for the money. I have a real interest now. My dream job is working for Boeing. I think working on airplanes is more fun than rocketry. I’d love to design wings of airplanes to improve aerodynamics and air flow. One thing I definitely take away from this is that if you invent the next iPhone, people remember your name for a month but if you invent the next airplane, people will remember for a long time.

HTHH: What are you doing with your summer?

Niki: I got a job at Starbucks because I wanted to challenge myself and do something new. It’s not hard math problems, but it’s definitely challenging in a different way! I’m in some edx courses and I’m still working on robotics stuff during the summer. We’re UIL now so we want to make the best impression on people like senators and governors so we keep getting funded.

HTHH: What do your parents think about your engineering ambitions?

Niki: My mom was an immigrant from Iran so she got her BS / MS in business. My dad dropped out of high school but he went back to school and now works for Penny Mac. Most of my family is bankers. But I know it’s not for me, especially after listening to my mom talk about how boring it is! But I’ll be the first in my family to complete a traditional American education.

HTHH: Thanks for talking with us! We’re so glad you had a great experience with Design, Connect, Create! We can’t wait to see what awesome things you will accomplish in the future.

Your donation supports DCC physics camps and other HTHH programs that level the playing field for girls in STEM. Learn more.

Tech Titans Community Hero!

We are thrilled to announce that High-Tech High Heels Co-President Heidi Means has been awarded the Community Hero award at last week’s Tech Titans Awards Gala. The prestigious annual event, first held in 2001, recognizes companies and individuals who are making contributions both to their fields and their communities. The Community Hero award is given to an individual within the technology industry for outstanding achievements in community involvement. Congratulations Heidi, and thanks for all your hard work on behalf of HTHH and North Texas girls in STEM!

See the full list of winners here.

Meet the Thunder Chicks

With a grant from High-Tech High Heels, the Young Women’s Preparatory Network created the first robotics club at the Irma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School and the “Thunder Chicks” were born!

Tthunderchickshe team includes girls who have previous experience with robotics as well as some who do not. They were the only all-girl team at their first competitions. They placed in the top 10 teams and had the second highest point scoring team in a tournament in January. They were also only one of three teams nominated for the Think Award, which considers not only the performance of the robot, but also the team’s collaboration, communication and project documentation.

Irma Rangel is a Dallas public school emphasizing mathematics, science and technology in a rigorous academic environment. More than 75% of its students are from economically disadvantaged homes and 85% will be first-generation college students.

All of the girls on the team plan to go to college. Their aspirations range from computer science and engineering to  computer animation, patent law and business.

Well done, Thunder Chicks!

 

In the Spotlight: Q&A with Educator LaShonda V. Roberson

STEM Equity Training with NAPE

It has been a busy year for STEM equity training in North LRobersonTexas! With funding from industry partners and foundations including High-Tech High Heels, the National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity (NAPE) worked with educators in four DFW-area school districts during 2013-2014: Dallas, Plano, Richardson and Lancaster. Since High-Tech High Heels brought NAPE to DFW in 2011, NAPE training has reached over 1,000 teachers, counselors, administrators and faculty in six school districts, the Dallas County Community College District and UTeach Dallas at The University of Texas at Dallas.

For educators, it is an eye-opening experience to learn how subtle, unintended biases in classrooms impact underrepresented student populations in STEM, such as females, Hispanics and African Americans. While bias is almost always unintentional, it can have far-reaching consequences for all students and can deter them from reaching their full potential in school or pursuing STEM careers. NAPE’s STEM equity training teaches educators to recognize the signs of bias and implement strategies to provide equitable education opportunities for every student.

We caught up with LaShonda V. Roberson, a middle school science teacher at Raul Quintanilla Sr. Middle School in South Oak Cliff, a school in Dallas ISD’s Imagine 2020 Strategic Feeder Pattern. Roberson is also a 2014 Texas Instruments Foundation “Innovations in STEM Teaching Award” winner. She attended the “Micromessaging to Reach and Teach Every Student” training, which was made possible by a grant to NAPE from the Communities Foundation of Texas.

HTHH: Why did you attend the STEM Equity training with NAPE and High-Tech High Heels?
LVR: I attended the STEM Equity training for a couple of reasons. First, to identify common mistakes teachers make in providing a fair and equal educational opportunity for all students regardless of gender and ethnicity. Secondly, to identify pedagogical strategies which will hopefully improve the representation of girls and underrepresented demographic groups in STEM courses and careers.

HTHH: What is STEM Equity training and why is it needed?
LVR: STEM equity uses research-based teaching methods to train teachers to empower and motivate underrepresented groups such as female, Hispanic and African-American students. The goal is that these students will pursue careers in STEM professions later in life. The STEM Equity training is needed because many teachers have biases that they may be unaware of, which often deters students from being interested in subjects they “think” are too challenging or not “meant” for them.

HTHH: What were the top things you learned from the training?
LVR: I learned to be more conscientious about what I’m saying nonverbally to my students, through my facial expressions and tone of voice. I also learned that there are a plethora of STEM careers that are accessible to all of my students. They aren’t as scary as they sound! Finally, I learned that I should take every opportunity to connect what we are doing in science class to everyday life as it relates to STEM.

HTHH: What was your favorite part of the training?
LVR: The presentation by the High-Tech High Heels speaker was a highlight. She is an engineer and shared her personal experience on how she broke through the glass ceiling. She shared with us the many educational levels and careers that all fit into STEM and really brought home how accessible these careers can be. I also especially enjoyed the STEM Careers Scavenger Hunt and plan to implement it in my classroom around our Career Day program.

HTHH: How has the training changed how you teach and engage with students in the classroom?
LVR: As a teacher, I tend to be very curriculum oriented to prepare my students for the next level. In recent feedback, it was suggested that I look for opportunities to reveal the many dimensions of all students in the room. It could be as simple as grouping students by “who likes salty versus sugary snacks.” This was an “ah ha” moment for me. In reflection, I realized that students need to not only learn science, but also to appreciate differences and to see others as multi-faceted personalities. I want to help my students develop their inter-personal skills so they can become effective collaborators with their future colleagues.
I am also more aware of how I interact with my students. Am I fair when I ask questions, make remarks, follow up on questions or remarks, discipline, praise, encourage, or instruct my students.

HTHH: How has the training benefited your students?
LVR: I am more cognizant of how my “micromessages” affect the classroom climate. I always want my students to feel supported and to feel comfortable making mistakes so they can learn from those mistakes. I want them to take risks, such as asking questions when everyone else is silent.

HTHH: How was this experience unique from other trainings you’ve experienced?
LVR: This session wasn’t about legislation, curriculum or testing – all of which are important – but it was about the importance of recognizing and removing gender or cultural biases that are sometimes so ingrained into our society that we are unaware of how they systematically hold students back and how this can affect generation after generation. I am very motivated to make STEM accessible to ALL of my students.

HTHH: What advice do you have for girls who are unsure about pursuing a STEM career?
LVR: I would let them know that there are a wide variety of STEM careers that require different levels of education and can match a variety of interests (i.e. indoors versus outdoors, associates degree versus doctorate degree). I would then point out some practical tools such as career interest surveys, Sciencebuddies.org or the Occupational Outlook handbook so she could explore her options.

HTHH: Is there anything else you’d like to add about the benefits of STEM Equity training?
LVR: Quintanilla Middle School sponsors an annual Career Day, and as a first time college graduate in my family, finding college-educated professionals to speak to my students has always been a challenge. However, this year I am reaching out to the High-Tech High Heels Speakers Bureau to connect with local STEM professionals to encourage my students to pursue a career in a Science, Technology, Engineering or Math field. I’m very excited to have access to such a resource.

In the Spotlight: Q&A with Physics Camp Alumna Kristine Gonzales

kg

Kristine Gonzales, a native of the North Texas area, says that attending the 2006 High-Tech High Heels AP Physics Camp inspired her to become an engineer. Today, she has a bright career ahead of her at BAE Systems, where she is working in the Operations Leadership Development Program (OLDP) in New Hampshire while also pursuing a master’s degree. She shared with us how her experience from the AP Physics Camp shaped her future, and her advice for girls who want to follow in her footsteps.

HTHH: Where did you go to college and what was your major?
KG: I received my undergraduate degree from Northeastern, where I majored in Mechanical Engineering and minored in Business Administration. I am now back at Northeastern pursuing my master’s degree in Engineering Management part-time while working at BAE Systems full-time.

HTHH: What does it mean to be in the Operations Leadership Development Program at BAE Systems?
KG: The OLDP is a three-year program that develops high-potential recent graduates into future leaders at BAE Systems through challenging rotation assignments, technical and leadership training, advanced education, leadership opportunities and mentorship. In this unique program, I have opportunities to work on projects that I would most likely not have had until many years into my career, such as working directly for the Director of Operations and attending meetings with the VP of Operations. Right now, I’m finishing up my first rotation in continuous improvement, where I’m working on implementing lean manufacturing principles.

HTHH: Did you always want to be in a STEM career?
KG: When I was younger, I was always fascinated by the weather and thought it would be cool to be a meteorologist. During middle school I realized I was very strong in the math and sciences, and in high school I learned about engineering and decided that’s what I would pursue.

HTHH: Is that when you were introduced to the High-Tech High Heels AP Physics Camp?
KG: I applied to the High-Tech High Heels Physics Camp for Girls during my sophomore year. The camp was offered at my high school and taught by one of the physics teachers, Dr. Jensen. At this point, I had not had Dr. Jensen as a teacher, but I had heard great things about her. I had signed up to take advanced physics classes in my junior year, and I knew that being in this summer program would prepare me to take on the challenges ahead.

HTHH: How was your camp experience?
KG: Although I knew the Physics Camp would be rewarding, I did not expect to have as much fun as I did. Dr. Jensen is one of the best instructors that I have ever had. Her enthusiasm and passion for teaching makes the most difficult problems seem possible. At camp, I also met other girls who were interested in STEM, and professionals who had taken that same direction.

HTHH: Did the AP Physics Camp prepare you for the challenges of college?
KG: My physics background was the foundation for choosing a mechanical engineering degree. During my freshman year of college, I actually had my mother mail me my high school physics notes so that I could use them for studying!

HTHH: You were sure about your path from a young age, but not all girls are as confident. Who gave you the confidence and inspiration to pursue STEM?
KG: My biggest inspiration is definitely my mother. I’ve never encountered anyone else who is so passionate about learning and is not afraid to ask for help. She inspires me to never stop and always keep striving for more. I’ve also been very inspired by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. I read her book “Lean In” this past summer and loved her story and advice for young professionals.

HTHH: What is your advice for girls who are unsure about pursuing a STEM career?
KG: I am currently in a rotational program that hires people from all disciples. Because of my engineering background, I have no constraints when it comes to choosing my next rotation. Some of the people in my program who don’t have an engineering background are limited because they aren’t eligible for certain positions. When I talk to them about the different engineering careers that are available they always say, “I wish I had known about that when I was choosing a major.” People think with a mechanical engineering degree you will be sitting at your desk doing tolerance analysis all day or with an electrical engineering degree you’ll be stuck programming for 12 hours a day. There are so many other things you can do with these degrees!

Also, there are many types of engineering degrees besides mechanical, electrical and civil engineering. There are industrial, systems, environmental engineering and many more. My advice would be to research your options and learn about the many opportunities that exist with these degrees. There are also many resources available in schools. My college had weekly chemistry and physics study sessions that were sponsored by the Society of Women Engineers chapter. Other colleges have similar resources.

HTHH: Now for a few fun questions! Are you ready?
KG: Sure!

Apple or Android? I’ve had an iPhone since it first came out!
Favorite apps? MyFitnessPal and Pinterest. I’m in the process of planning my wedding, so I am always pinning things!
What’s on your DVR? Scandal, Modern Family, and Say Yes to the Dress (I’m planning a wedding so that makes it ok, right?)
What music are you streaming? I’ve been obsessed with Justin Timberlake since ‘N Sync.
Instagram or Twitter? Definitely Instagram. I’m one of those weird people who takes pictures of my food.
Who’s your favorite geek? I like Jamie from Mythbusters. He always wears cool hats.