The University of Texas-Pan American Fieldhouse was "pretty in pink" Sept. 29 when young Latinas and their mothers gathered for Texas Instruments Latinas in Science, Math, Engineering Technology Day, one of many events during Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology (HESTEC) Week.
Mothers and daughters from more than 48 GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) schools across the Rio Grande Valley were surrounded in a sea of pink t-shirts, tablecloths, flowers and even food on a day devoted to encouraging young Hispanic females to think about the fields of science, technology, math and engineering as possible careers in the future.
"We have power and we are going to change America one woman at a time," Joan Robinson-Berry, deputy vice president for Technical Relations at Boeing, shouted to more than 1,000 mothers and daughters that attended the event.
Robinson-Berry, originally from La Puente, Calif. and one of nine siblings in her family, asked the mothers in the audience to let their daughters go out and explore the world and find their calling in life. She also told them to stop totally focusing on the traditional "girly" things they want for their daughters such as dolls and tea sets and start thinking more about Lego building blocks, Tonka toys and music.
During Robinson-Berry's presentation, she recognized students in the audience who have decided to go into the fields of technology, science, math and engineering after they graduate from high school. The girls that were recognized were also awarded a special gift from Boeing and deputized by Robinson-Berry as role models and the next leaders of tomorrow.
"You are all now the role models, the change agents, the leaders to inspire young Hispanic men and women all over the world to pursue careers in math and science," she said. "You will also demystify the myth that just because you are smart and bright you are nerds, you are not nerds, you are 'powerbrokers' and you are beautiful, glamorous and all that."
The Boeing executive also told the students to be proud of who they are and the culture they come from.
"If you look at your history you will find that the Hispanic community comes from a very rich heritage; it is in your DNA to have great engineering, math and science minds. You can go back and look at the ruins in Mexico and other parts of the world and find tremendous engineering and science that went on. The evolution that you have in your DNA is unmatched," she said. "We need you to stay true to yourself and true to your culture because that is where the ideas and the innovation come from."
Melendy Lovett, president of Educational and Productivity Solutions at Texas Instruments, opened the day as the first keynote speaker on the agenda. Lovett told the audience Texas Instruments sponsored the day to ensure young Latinas have the skills and knowledge to get what they want in life.
"I invite you to embrace this year's HESTEC theme - 'Realizing the Possibilities' - as your personal theme for your future. I ask you to visualize the career and life you want and I want you to leave here knowing you have that power to make it a reality," Lovett said. "I want to be a part of convincing you that a strong science, math and engineering education will help you realize your possibilities. Today HESTEC and TI are here to show you how."
Lovett, a mother of a 14-year-old daughter, told mothers they need to help their daughters start a foundation for the type of career they want to pursue, which starts with a strong education.
During her speech, Lovett also discussed national statistics affecting minorities, the importance of having a math and science education and the promising career opportunities in math, science, technology and engineering available to young Hispanic females.
She said half of Texas Hispanics over the age of 25 have a high school degree, while young adults with a college degree on average earn $20,000 more each year than those with a high school diploma.
Lovett also said that an adult who has only a high school education is twice as likely to be unemployed than those that have a college degree.
"I hope from these statistics you can see some tangible value for the education you are pursuing. These negative statistics do not only influence Latinas, they can also significantly impact their family," Lovett said.
During the day, Valley high school girls and their mothers had the opportunity to participate in two different panels featuring NASA and Ford Motor Company female executives and representatives.
By the year 2030, 25 percent of U.S. school children will be Latinos. By the year 2050, 25 percent of the entire U.S. population will be Latino, Milagros Mateu, a NASA employee who moderated the NASA panel, said. "This puts you in a very important place," she said. "You have a critical role to play if the U.S. is to maintain its prominence; we need many of you to think about careers in math, science and technology."
Mateu said NASA has a very strong commitment to providing the students with the resources needed to inspire and prepare them to assume these types of positions.
Dalia Q. Riojas, who works at NASA's Planning and Control Office and the International Space Station Program Office, told students about her life and career at NASA, in addition to what motivated her to pursue engineering.
"It was my mother who was the biggest influence to me," Riojas said. "She was the one who valued education and instilled that value in me."
Gloria Araiza-Young, a NASA space shuttle flight controller at Johnson Space Center, was born in Zapata, Texas and was the first in her family to go to college.
"My love for science and math started in South Texas and it's good to be back," Araiza-Young said. "The only way to advance the Latin community, is to advance united, and an education is the way to do that."
Students said they thought the discussion was very informative and the panelists showed a genuine interest in answering questions and assisting them.
"You could tell that they really liked what they are doing," Kaci Callanan, an 11th grade student at Mission High School said. "They really wanted to help out and give us good direction."
Gloria Delgado, also an 11th grade student at Mission High School thought the presentation was interesting, especially for Latinas.
"Because they are women, it is more meaningful to us. It helps to know that other people have opened doors for Latinas," she said.
Not only did students enjoy the NASA panel discussion and question and answer session, but their mothers were equally impressed.
"I think it was great for the kids to know what is out there for them," Linda Medrano said, who attended the event with her daughter Sonia Medrano, an 11th grade student at Progreso High School. "It was really helpful because they were women and they showed the students they could accomplish anything."
A highlight of the day directed to Valley GEAR UP students and their mothers was the presentation of the 2004 HESTEC Latina Pioneer Award to Dr. Teresa Lozano Long.
The award honors a lifetime of outstanding achievement that has contributed significantly to the advancement of the cause of education in Texas and throughout the nation.
Born in Premont, Texas, Long has many firsts in her life. She is one of the first Hispanic women to receive a doctorate of education from The University of Texas at Austin and the first Hispanic to receive it in health and physical education. She is one of the first Hispanic women to work as a research assistant and as a consultant implementing the Title I Program in Texas for the Texas Education Agency.
Long was the only woman on the research staff for Texas governor John Connally's Committee on Public Education in Texas. She was also one of the first Hispanic women appointed by the President of the United States to the National Council on the Arts.
"I feel I was able to get these jobs because of my education and my teaching experience. Through the years I have found that people that achieve are those who set goals and work to achieve them. In my jobs I have sought to learn as much as possible regarding the path I'm in and give it as much time as necessary to do a good job," Long said.
Long and her husband, Austin banker and attorney, Joe Long, have demonstrated a long-term commitment to educating Texas youth. The Long Foundation, established by the Long family, supports many cultural and educational organizations in Texas and in recent years set up an endowment specifically dedicated to benefiting the state's Hispanic youth in cooperation with the 1997 President's Summit for America's Future.
"It is a known fact that people that graduate from college make more money than those who do not go to college. Financial reward is one of the opportunities to help others and have a better way of life," she said.
She cited many of the fields available to students to pursue, all of which, she said, were available at UTPA.
"Who knows, maybe someday you will be a college president just as Dr. (Blandina) Cárdenas is president of this University," Long said.
Flora Bulnes, a math teacher at W.A.Todd ninth grade campus in Donna, attended Latina Day with her daughter Anna, a junior at Weslaco East High School. "This is a time to be with her. She is going into the sciences and I want to encourage her," said Flora.
Anna, one of nine children, said she was interested in forensics.
"A teaching assistant from UT Pan American came to the school and I became interested in it from listening to her," Anna said.
Bertha Cantu, new owner of Boyd's Barber Shop in McAllen, sat with her daughter Lucy, a junior at PSJA High School.
"I am very glad I'm here because this is a great opportunity for me and my daughter to learn about careers. I am proud that my daughter is paying attention to the speakers and hope she will take this information into the future," Bertha said.
In a surprise for the students attending, Robin McCasland, director of Marketing Development, Educational and Productivity Solutions at Texas Instruments, had all attendees check a rub-off spot on a pink calculator faceplate that all the students had been given when entering the Fieldhouse for the Latina Day luncheon.
Fifty lucky winners were awarded brand new TI-84 Plus silver edition graphing calculators. TI officials said they hoped the giveaway will help engage and energize Latina girls in learning math and science.