The 100-plus middle school girls oohed and ahhed as Dr. Karen Lozano stuffed four inflatable balloons into a small container filled with liquid nitrogen.
The balloons began to shrivel into the container. Once they looked completely deflated, Lozano, a mechanical engineering professor at The University of Texas-Pan American, removed the colorful decorations and they immediately resumed their original shape.
Lozano's engineering "magic show," a demonstration of basic science experiments, was one of several activities the students participated in May 25 during the third annual "Girls in Engineering" event.
The University and Region One Education Service Center started the daylong workshop to encourage girls to pursue careers in engineering and challenge the notion that those fields are more geared toward males.
"We can't afford to have that sort of mentality in engineering," said Dr. Miguel Gonzalez, associate dean of the College of Science and Engineering.
Gonzalez greeted the students, who came from 15 school districts throughout the Rio Grande Valley along with their teachers and counselors, and explained the different engineering programs the University offers, as well as what math and science courses they need to take in high school to better prepare themselves for studying these careers in college.
"I hope before you make a decision you do your homework and decide if this is something you want to do for the rest of your life," Gonzalez said. "Set your goals high. ... It's a lot of sacrifice but the payoffs are there."
The students toured the Engineering Building, where they saw the UTPA Human Powered Vehicle team's car, "Potro," and learned about robots. The girls also participated in a snap circuit contest. Whichever team made the most circuit patterns within an hour won certificates and a snap circuit set for their campuses.
Teams from Veterans Middle School in Donna and Cuellar Middle School in Weslaco won their respective competitions, completing 22 and 12 circuits, respectively.
The girls on those teams said they enjoyed the challenge and are considering science-related careers.
"I want to be an electrical engineer," said Leeana Tovias, a 13-year-old eighth-grade student at Veterans Middle School. "I just always liked electricity and how things are made."
The Cuellar Middle School group said they enjoyed working together to solve problems during the competition and learning about all the opportunities available to them in engineering careers.
"I'm starting to really like this," said Flor Saldivar, a 14-year-old eighth-grade student.
During the magic show that followed the competitions and tours, Lozano shared her life story with the students and told them how she once considered giving up on engineering because she thought those jobs would favor males. But her mother encouraged her to follow her dreams and Lozano earned a Ph.D. from Rice University.
"You are not a sheep," she said. "You don't have to follow the herd."