‘The Doors Are Open’

0
699

It was appropriate that Sara Lozano, program chair and assistant professor in the Architectural & Engineering Design Technology Program at South Texas College, was discussing the idea of persisting with her coworkers during March a couple of years back — Women’s History Month.

“That’s really what we feel these students do — they push forward despite whatever obstacles they have in their lives,” Lozano said. “They really do strive to succeed and that’s where this idea was born. We wanted to recognize female students for their persistence and encourage others to follow in their path.”

The idea was She Persists, a campaign facilitated in part by the Carl D. Perkins Basic Grant, which bolsters CTE and workforce programs. She Persists aims to highlight women in nontraditional career fields — particularly positions in architecture, manufacturing, information technology, and the automotive industry, among others.

“I’ve been teaching for like 16, 17 years and it hasn’t changed in terms of how male-dominated our classrooms are,” said Angelita Teniente, instructor and assistant program chair of the IT department at STC. “In terms of fighting that perception that it’s only males, I think in our particular case — and this was not intentional — we have a lot of female faculty in our IT program. I think when our female students see us up there and we’re discussing different concepts and showing them different things all IT related, I think that helps boost their motivation.”

That motivation is key for Lozano and her colleagues to identify as a catalyst for the She Persists campaign.

“The more we talk to the students about their potential, the more excited they get, and they feel a sense of pride for what they’re accomplishing,” Lozano said. “Not just anybody can do it — you have to have the fight in you to finish your degree and find a place where you can work toward your goal in an environment that doesn’t always have the doors wide open for women.

“It’s very important to share these success stories with the community so they see what we’re able to offer the students when they come through our doors.”

Lozano went to Yale University to study architecture. “A Latina in the architecture community at Yale was rare,” she said. “I never really understood what it meant to be a woman in this career field until I was surrounded by mostly male classmates. It was then that I realized, ‘wow, there aren’t a lot of women.’ But to be honest, that never discouraged me. In fact, it actually motivated me to stand out.”

Esmeralda Adame, assistant dean and Advanced Manufacturing Technology associate professor at STC, also remembers being among two or three women in engineering classes of 50 or 60 men. She did her dissertation on the lack of women in STEM fields, finding that the lower the economic status — or if neither parent was in a STEM-related job — neither female nor male students would pursue a STEM career path.

“I want to encourage more females into those programs because we need them,” Adame said. “Male designers may be important for some jobs, but female designers are needed as well to ensure there is diversity in the design field. Our body structure’s different.”

That gender disparity Lozano experienced at Yale followed her back to the Rio Grande Valley.

“It wasn’t really until I came back home and started to see that women aren’t actively encouraged to pursue careers such as any of these workforce programs that we have here at STC,” she said. “It’s surprising to me because when I think of the students that have been successful specifically in our architectural program, the ones that pop to mind are usually the female students.”

The achievements of those students and others are highlighted at the annual Women in Technology, one of STC’s biggest female-driven STEM initiatives. Next year marks the event’s 10th year.

“It’s fun, but more than that it’s an opportunity to meet students, to meet alumni, to meet the faculty,” Lozano said. “Everybody within the division is at this event.”

The event also represents a chance for students’ family, friends, and the RGV community as a whole to learn about what STC is offering.

“We just try to put it out there and make it known that females can join any career that they’re interested in,” Teniente said. “We try to celebrate whatever female students are graduating or are in the programs so that others can see, ‘hey, it’s something we can do and it’s not just for the guys.’”

Another program, Girls in Technology, is in its second year, and aims to raise awareness of STEM careers for younger female students — an important initiative, Adame found.

“If we get them in high school, college, that’s really late,” she said. “I’m not saying it’s zero chance they’ll change majors and pursue a STEM career, but it’s late. We need to grab them as young as in elementary, junior high.”

When Adame attends career fairs, many young students aren’t aware of what’s available. This event looks to bring STEM jobs to the forefront in memorable ways, like the chance to weld and use the milling machine for advanced manufacturing.

“It’s not until you get the kids to experience hands-on stuff that they start to become interested in these careers,” Adame said. “That’s where they’re going to remember and that’s what will have the biggest impact on them.”

For more information about our Career and Technical Education Programs and everything South Texas College has to offer, call 1-855-GOTOSTC or visit bt.southtexascollege.edu. Funding was provided through the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board with Carl D. Perkins Basic funds.