UT Girl Day Makes Progress in Closing the STEM Gender Gap
By Ivy Fowler
Reporting Texas TV
AUSTIN, Texas – Over 9,000 Texas children participated in UT’s STEM Girl Day this year, an outreach event hosted by Women in STEM (WiSTEM) to get young girls excited about futures in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).
The kids got to code fruits to be musical instruments, catapult water balloons, watch a fire and ice chemistry demonstration, and bounce between over 150 other activities throughout the day.
“I was 30-years-old before I thought I could be a scientist,” UT chemistry department demonstrations outreach coordinator Atlantis Frost said.
“It’s still difficult to be a woman, to be a woman of color, to be a queer person … but I have to say already that Girl Day has shown me that there are so many things available to all different types of people, but especially girls.”
WiSTEM executive director Tricia Berry said in the years since Girl Day’s start in 2002, more than 63,000 elementary and middle school girls have participated, and many of those girls come back to study STEM at UT.
“Girl Day is intended to be that little spark and inspiration to help those (girls) get a glimpse of what it might be like to be a scientist or engineer,” Berry said. “We need this diversity in these STEM majors and fields so we can get the best products out there that make our world a better place.”
One of those inspired girls is third year UT Health and Society student Emily Nguyen, who first came to Girl Day as a high school sophomore. Nguyen said she wasn’t sure what she wanted to study, but Girl Day helped her realize a passion for medicine.
“I was kind of debating between education and medicine. The resources they offered here at UT that’s when I knew for sure that that’s some type of field I want to get into and that I’m interested in doing STEM things,” Nguyen said.
She is a member of Global Medical Training Longhorn, a student-led organization that expands awareness of the global humanitarian need. When GMT asked her to volunteer with them for Girl Day, her answer was clear.
“When I went to Girl Day I was like ‘woah these people are so smart, really cool,’ and seeing the other point of view now, getting to see how their reactions are similar to mine, it was really cool to see that,” Nguyen said.
One participant she got to see having fun this year was her little sister.
Girl Day started as Introduce a Girl to STEM Day in 2002. Hosted by UT’s Women in Engineering program, there were 95 middle school participants. The Girl Day festival model became official in 2016 and tripled in size.
“As an engineer, I always looked to find those communities when I was a student here,” Berry said.
“The Women in Engineering program started when I was a student on campus studying chemical engineering. Being part of a program like this that helps students find their place and help them get out in the world excites me, it gets me going everyday.”
WiSTEM’s goal is to create an inspired and diverse community of confident STEM leaders Berry said. This goal is in line with the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, which oversees the efforts of every department at UT to create inclusive and diverse campus spaces.
UT’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion campus programs and outreach events led to an increase in diversity in the engineering department according to DEI annual reports, and an increase in diversity at Girl Day.
Nguyen said seeing more women of color at this year’s Girl Day compared to when she went was refreshing.
“Knowing that there’s this support and movement to have more women in STEM I think is very empowering especially for the next generation,” Nguyen said.