The Ysleta Young Women’s Leadership Academy is one of many schools in the Young Women’s Preparatory Network (YWPN). The nonprofit organization partners with public school districts to operate the largest network of all-girls, public, college-preparatory schools in the United States. All YWPN schools’ curriculum focuses on encouraging interests in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. Civil EITs Sandra Gutierrez and Lynda Macias visited the Ysleta Young Womens’ Leadership Academy to give these young STEM students insight into careers in engineering.

“I think it’s really beneficial for the students because it gives them a different outlook instead of just the teacher’s perspective,” said Amber Herrera, Introduction to Principles of Engineering instructor. “I think it’s definitely something that captures their interest more so than anything that I might have them do. It’s a different voice. It’s a different person. It’s being able to offer a different perspective. I think it’s really good for them, and I think they really enjoyed it.”

According to one U.S. Department of Education survey, in 2015 127,93 men graduated with an engineering degree or certificate compared to 34,651 women. Having women in engineering present about a field that is male-dominated had a significant impact on the instructor and students.

“Seeing that powerful females are in this kind of field inspires me, and watching this presentation interested me and showed me a new side of civil engineering,” said Riddhi Patel, a freshman at YWLA. “It showed me what different women in STEM do, and it might also have me become an engineer.”

Sandra and Lynda’s presentation also included a hands-on activity – making edible concrete with graham crackers, powdered sugar, corn syrup, and orange juice concentrate. The end result tasted like a citrus-flavored cookie. Each ingredient represented a particular component of concrete:

graham crackers  =  aggregate

powdered sugar = Portland cement

corn syrup and orange juice concentrate = water

“When they were compacting the concrete, one of them used a small plastic container to compact it more,” Lynda said. “They’re bringing better ideas. ‘I’m not just going to use a spoon.’ Their minds are already in a different spectrum of ingenuity. A great tool needed in engineering.”

The majority of the students in each of the classes that attended the presentation raised their hands as knowing what STEM career they wanted to pursue. Sandra said these students are way ahead of where she was at the same point in her life. Sharing words of wisdom from personal experiences is part of what inspires her and Lynda to do these presentations.

“I strongly feel that as much as we give to the client, the importance of high ownership and technicality that goes into our everyday tasks as engineers are just as importantly met with our part in giving back and inspiring the next generation of engineers, spreading what we do as engineers and bringing curiosity to all age groups,” Sandra said.

YWLA’s focus is STEM-based curriculum, but the school’s mission is also strengthening leadership, college readiness, and wellness life skills.

“Their words of wisdom hit really close to home,” said Joie Carrillo, a freshman at YWLA. “I personally am going through a hard time deciding what to do, so the research might help. Knowing as they kept saying that ‘we’re ahead’ puts faith in me that I can do something in this world.”