Nothing can get in the way of New Mexico State University’s Society of Women Engineers’ mission to inspire the next generation of women in STEM. Not even a global pandemic.
For the past three years, SWE members visit fourth and fifth grade girls in Las Cruces to promote STEM careers through an interactive science program called SWENext. But with the pandemic moving school activities online, SWE had to get creative.
Veronica Trujillo, SWE president and electrical and computer engineering student, had the idea of conducting interactive virtual presentations.
“I thought it would be beneficial to do things online with the students so that they don’t lose out on doing fun stuff that’s educational,” Trujillo said.
In a normal school year, SWE would visit the students in the fall through the spring semesters. This time around, the presentations were pushed back to the spring because of COVID-19 restrictions.
“We would go there on a weekly basis and perform science projects with the kids,” said Dana Turon, SWE outreach officer and mechanical engineering student.
Another challenge SWE faced was raising funds to buy the materials needed for the presentations.
With the help from NMSU’s University Advancement department, SWE held a Make A Statement campaign to raise funds for the materials needed to conduct the interactive virtual experiments. Over $1,700 was raised. Trujillo said a large portion of the funds came from past and current club members.
SWE gathered a wide range of engineering-focused student organizations as well as the Aggie Innovation Space, a maker space, additive manufacturing and machine shop, for the presentations.
Turon was in contact with Monte Vista Elementary School teacher Cecilia Lujan-Pincomb. Lujan-Pincomb previously invited SWE to her extracurricular computer programming classes. Together they coordinated material drop-offs so students could pick them up before the presentations.
SWE began the presentations over Zoom in March. They will continue until the end of this semester and start again in the fall.
Turon said she enjoys STEM outreach activities because it was something she never experienced as an elementary student.
“I feel like I didn’t have anything like this growing up so it kind of took me a while to figure out what I wanted to do,” Turon said. “I changed my major a lot of times because I didn’t have that direction. I think having this at a very young age and seeing that other females can do this is something that would have helped me a lot.”
Lujan-Pincomb explained how important it is for young girls to see other women in roles typically dominated by men.
“I saw my girls coding and they were seriously doing so much better than boys in robotics,” Lujan-Pincomb said. “They absolutely loved it; they were able to think out of the box.”
However, Lujan-Pincomb said she noticed only boys were joining her after-school Robotics competitions until she started an after-school Girls Who Code program.
“I started interviewing some of my girls and all they could say is ‘I don’t want to be a gamer,’ Pincomb said. “I realized I needed to expand their horizons as to how broad STEM is. But we didn’t have enough female role models that were doing exciting, fabulous things in STEM. I noticed girls can only be what they see and if they’re only seeing men in these fields, then we’re not going to get girls in STEM.”
Trujillo said similar science presentations she saw growing up are what inspired her to pursue a career in engineering.
“I was about 10 years old, so about the same age as the kids that we work with now, and it was with Los Alamos National Labs,” Trujillo said. “They basically gave us similar types of projects and that inspired me to go into electrical engineering. It gave me that hope to do something within STEM and I want to do that to get a new generation of kids inspired to do anything they want despite what people tell them.”