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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.
HTHH: 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?
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.
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.
You can now purchase tickets to our 3rd annual Friendraiser, taking place on Thursday September 15th at 6pm, at the George W. Bush Presidential Center at Southern Methodist University. Click here to go to our secure ticket website to purchase admission. Early bird pricing lasts until July 31.
In June, young women from Irma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School and Young Women’s Leadership Academy at Arnold attended Summer Science Splash Camp (SSSCamp) hosted by the University of Texas at Dallas, which is funded in part by High Tech High Heels. These 7th, 8th, and 9th grade students had the opportunity to explore the breath of STEM options in a fun residential weeklong program. Click here for photos and more information on the camps.
Hurry and register for the Design Connect Create! 2016 summer physics camps for young women.
After serving more than 900 young women from 2003 through 2014, the AP Physics Camp program launched by High-Tech High Heels formally transitioned to the Design Connect Create! 501(c)(3) organization last year.
DCC’s charter is to close the gender gap in STEM by empowering young women to excel in AP Physics. In 2015 they reached almost 300 students through their summer camp program. This program is critical because high school physics is the place where most women opt out of STEM fields, just at the time when they are choosing a college and a degree plan.
How to register
Rising 9th-12th graders who plan to take their first physics course in the fall can register for this immersive hands-on experience to explore and have fun with physics. Students form a deep understanding and build confidence to move forward and persist in STEM. The camps deliver action-packed days filled with labs, female guest speakers, interactive problem solving, field trips and engineering challenges.
Sign up for a 2016 camp
Watch a video to see what camp is like
Did you know U.S. women are earning fewer degrees in STEM fields today than they were a decade ago? According to this Washington Post article, bachelor’s degrees earned by women have declined in every category—from engineering to mathematics to computer sciences.
These statistics are unacceptable by any standard. High-Tech High Heels is committed to changing the trend, and the high-quality programs we fund are making a measurable impact to close the gender gap in STEM fields.
For example: since 2001, 996 girls have attended the Physics Camp delivered by our partner Design Connect Create!. Based on a 2006 Dallas ISD cohort, girls who attended Physics Camp were 2.6x more likely to earn a STEM degree and 5x more likely to earn an engineering degree than non-campers. Our support allows DCC to continue scaling the camp to allow more girls to attend.
Another example is how National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity (NAPE) is improving STEM gender equity among educators. NAPE’s programs build awareness and enhance skills in equity training, as well as dispel stereotypes about STEM careers. Since 2001, 767 STEM teachers have attended gender equity training, and 940 counselors have attended workshops on STEM careers in DFW. NAPE has reached about 40,000 students annually. Here is a recent video that shows NAPE’s impact.
Since High-Tech High Heels was founded, we have granted more than $410,000 to programs that further our mission. In 2015, in addition to funding our core programs, we funded exciting new programs to increase our impact. 2015 was our highest granting year to date, yet we still have more to do.
Your donations enable us to provide grants to more organizations and programs that close the gender gap in STEM. By introducing your colleagues, family and friends to High-Tech High Heels, you educate others about the reality of the gender gap and empower them to make a difference. Together, let’s change the statistics.
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!
The 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!
We are excited to share our 2016 Winter Grant Cycle recipients. We selected these programs based on their ability to deliver on specific criteria, including: preparing girls academically for successful college study in STEM fields; fostering girls’ interest, confidence and persistence in STEM studies and fields; and producing measurable results that show a positive impact on closing the gender gap.
Design Connect Create (DCC), our partner for delivering summer AP physics camps for girls, will offer six camp sessions in 2016. Our support will allow DCC to scale the camps by serving up to 220 girls this year—2.5x more than 2015! DCC will offer the camps in Dallas ISD, Mesquite ISD and Fort Worth ISD, as well as two open enrollment camps at the University of Texas at Dallas. Expected outcomes include higher AP-Physics test scores than non-campers, and long-term, DCC expects to increase the number of four-year degrees in STEM and Engineering earned by campers, based on 2006 cohort results.
The National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity (NAPE) will deliver STEM Gender Equity training for educators in two North Texas school districts. NAPE training helps educators identify possible sources of bias, recognize the unique gifts of others and embrace cultural diversity. The expected outcome will be that educators will implement NAPE micromessaging strategies in their classrooms and encourage girls to pursue further study in STEM.
The II-VI Foundation will expand its Summer Science Splash Camp into North Texas at the University of Texas at Dallas. Our grant will subsidize 50 seats for girls, out of 100 total seats. The mission of the II-VI Foundation is to encourage and enable students to pursue a career in engineering, science and mathematics while maintaining a standard of excellence in that pursuit. Summer Science Splash Camp is a one week residential camp for middle school girls and boys, nurturing students’ interest in STEM subjects at a time when they are beginning to think about their future careers. The camp also operates in Pennsylvania, Florida and Mississippi.
Congratulations to our winter grant recipients!
The High-Tech High Heels (HTHH) Board of Directors is grateful for the dedication of our wonderful volunteers. Our work would not be possible without your support. Please join us at our first annual Volunteer Appreciation event, where you will:
- Learn about the impact our volunteers are making to help more local students pursue STEM degrees and careers;
- Network with other HTHH volunteers;
- Learn about new volunteer opportunities; and
- Meet the HTHH Board of Directors.
When: Monday, February 29, 2016, 5:30-7:00 p.m.
Where: Plano’s Environmental Education Center
4116 West Plano Parkway, Plano, TX 75093
Light appetizers will be provided and there is no charge to attend.
Please RSVP by Friday, February 26. If you have already RSVP’d, we look forward to seeing you on Monday!