Girls interested in STEM careers shine at UHCL event
When Loretta Williams Gurnell was a science teacher in a Houston charter school, she noticed one thing she didn't like at all — the girls in her classes weren't raising their hands.
"The girls were shying away," she said. "I wanted girls to own their voices in the classroom. I could especially see the girls that looked like me weren't participating."
Williams Gurnell decided to do something about it and is now the founder of the SUPERGirls SHINE Foundation, a nonprofit organization that aims to tackle the challenges faced by young women of color and inspire them to pursue a STEM-related profession by assisting them with hands-on experiences, leadership-building sessions, and industry-based internships.
On Saturday, March 13, SUPERGirls SHINE Foundation's Visit University of Houston-Clear Lake event was attended by 22 girls from several area school districts, with the youngest attendee aged 7, and the oldest aged 22.
"Since we launched in 2015, we have been giving girls the tools not just to get a STEM degree, but to become a leader in a STEM field," she said. "This is our foundation's 'why': We don't want girls to be classified as 'disadvantaged,' so when a girl is not classified as disadvantaged, she's not taken advantage of."
Williams Gurnell added that in the foundation's five years, 87% of girls from districts in which SUPERGirls SHINE has been involved have gone to college and chosen a STEM path.
UH-Clear Lake President Ira K. Blake said the SUPERGirls' visit to the university was even more exceptional because March is Women's History Month.
"Let me tell you about the extraordinary women who believe in your potential," Blake said. "One is Denise Navarro, a double-UHCL alumna who grounded her career at NASA Johnson Space Center and other government agencies for many years. You'll hear from her, and you'll experience the power of committed, accomplished women. Ask them many questions, and think about what interests you. Imagine yourself pursing your dreams."
Navarro, who received her bachelor's in 1986 and her Master of Business Administration in 1991 from UHCL, said that she hoped the girls would go away from the event inspired by the stories of women in STEM who have come before them. "As an alumna with a passion for youth in STEM, I love to see impact," she said. "There is a world of possibilities on this campus for these girls to pursue their dreams."
UHCL's Associate Professor of Biology and Biotechnology Lory Santiago-Vazquez spoke to the girls about her own journey from Puerto Rico to the United States, where she received her education and was able to do research that allowed her to travel the world. Her own daughter Guiliana, aged 9, goes to St. Laurence Catholic School in Sugar Land and attended the event.
"I attended because being a girl, I feel like I need to have more confidence and attending would help me have more confidence skills," she said. "The most important thing I learned from being here today is that girls are powerful and fearless."