NASA, the U.S. Navy, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Fluor, ConocoPhillips and the Marines all came together at the University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering late last month to encourage young people to study STEM fields in college (science, technology engineering, mathematics).
The event, Science Extravaganza, was organized by the University of Houston chapter of MAES, a society for Latinos in science and engineering. It brought nearly 500 students from nine Houston-area schools – primarily from communities that are underrepresented in STEM – to the university to learn about their educational options.
“A lot of these students don’t know what STEM is and how to get into STEM,” said Lilian Rodriguez, a junior at UH and vice president of outreach for MAES-UH. “The reason we hold this event it is to expose students to STEM and hopefully inspire them not necessarily to pursue a STEM degree, but just to go to college. A lot of these kids don’t know what to do to get into college or how to apply.”“
In keeping with that mission, students attended a talk explaining how to apply for college, what type of financial support may be available to them, and how to navigate the financial aid and scholarship processes.
The event also featured a series of hands-on activities run by volunteers from government, industry and the military, as well from the college’s various student organizations. Designed to give students a taste of science and engineering, one workshop, for example, had attendees assemble a circuit board, while another asked them to use a methodical, engineering-based approach to solve some simple problems.
The students and professionals who volunteered their time to host these activities Rodriguez added, should be recognized for their efforts. “Outreach is important, especially when professionals and college students work together. We show them what it’s like in the work world and as a student. So it says a lot when you give up work or study time to help high school students who probably have never set foot on a university campus before,” she said.
In addition to these professional engineers and students, Science Extravaganza featured a talk from Ed Gonzalez, a member of the Houston City Council. Gonzalez noted that he grew up, lives in and now represents a part of Houston that struggles with crime and poverty. By earning his degree at the University of Houston – Downtown, he was able to go on to a successful, 18-year career in the Houston Police Department, followed by more public service as a council member.
Education, he told the students, is the key to having the type of career that can help lift them and their communities up.
“I don’t want you to just learn how to play video games. I want you to learn how to design them. I want you to know coding and understand how all this works,” he said. “We’re very fortunate that in this region we have a lot of high paying jobs. There are a lot of opportunities out there. You may not know exactly what you want to do, but you should get involved, you should participate in these kind of events. I hope that someday you’ll look back on an event like this and realize that it really inspired you to go to college.”