South Texas mothers and their daughters mustered up the imagination and resourcefulness that engineers need when they joined forces to assemble a marshmallow tower during a day committed to promoting science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers to women.
"Build the Tallest Tower & Test it," sponsored by Raytheon Corporation, was one of the many breakout sessions presented during Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology (HESTEC) Week's Latina Day Sept. 26, at The University of Texas-Pan American.
More than 400 girls from all over South Texas and their female relatives came to campus to hear from women who achieved successful careers in STEM-related fields and learn about educational and career opportunities available to the teenagers.
The tower challenge was led by two Valley natives, Justa Treviño, a systems engineer, and Veronica Bacica, a mechanical engineer and 2000 graduate of UTPA.
"This brings back those memories of when I was in school working hard. It's a really good experience for me to come back and see these girls and push them to learn more about science and technology because STEM fields affect everything that you do," Bacica said.
The mother-daughter duos were asked to erect a tower out of 50 marshmallows and 100 toothpicks in less than 20 minutes. Once construction of the tower was complete, the pairs were graded on the durability of their structure by placing a CD box on top of the creation.
Luz Quintanilla said the Latina Day workshops motivated her to continue supporting her 13-year-old daughter, Marissa Quintanilla, to pursue a promising career. Marissa has aspirations of being a reconstructive plastic surgeon for children with facial deformities.
"I tell my daughter that there is no limit. Education is what you need and so this day is great for them," said Luz Quintanilla. "I want her to have a better future and have more than I did. I tell her, the world is your oyster, you do what you have to do and you'll achieve it."
Marissa, a Falfurrias Middle School eighth grader, said the day's experiences helped her recognize that as a young Latina, she needs to be more committed to her education, because there are a lot of exciting prospects ahead.
"I look at the women and think if they can do it so can I. It just takes motivation," Marissa said.
Latina Day is an event dedicated to celebrating women who have been triumphant in STEM-related fields. Hundreds of mother and daughter teams from throughout the region were brought together to hear the inspiring stories of prominent Hispanic women succeeding in jobs once dominated by men.
Jo-Marie Rodriguez, an eighth grader at Valley View Early College, said the sessions, including "Roadmap to Success in a Stem Career" and "Latina Unplugged Session," were inspirational.
"It motivates me by knowing that I can become successful and then I can motivate other students. I feel great knowing that it is supporting us as Hispanics," Rodriguez said. "You get to experience the activities, and then you can go out and study that in your future and get a career in it."
During ExxonMobil's breakout session, "Latinas in Engineering and Technology: Successful Women at ExxonMobil," the girls and their female relatives heard from employees of the world's largest private energy company, including Samantha Silvas (BS '09), who was the first woman from UTPA to earn a bachelor's degree in computer engineering.
Silvas told the girls about how she was recruited by ExxonMobil while still a student during a previous HESTEC. Now based in Houston, Silvas said leaving her home in the Rio Grande Valley was hard but worth it for her success.
"The reason I left home was because ExxonMobil offered me long-term job goals," said Silvas, who has held three different positions in the company and now manages eight people.
The girls were also given a task to determine whether a cylinder made from 8 1/2-inch by 11-inch paper rolled lengthwise or widthwise would hold more bubblegum. After rolling two pieces of paper -- one each way -- they learned the shorter and wider cylinder held more candy.
Afterward, the ExxonMobil representatives showed them a mathematical equation to figure out which cylinder had a greater volume and could hold more gum.
"I knew the short one would hold more because it had more space," said Alanis Azoca, an eighth-grade student at B. Garza Middle School in Weslaco.
She and classmate Lauren Contreras worked together on the project and said they were excited to have been picked out of 25 girls in their school to attend HESTEC Latina Day.
"It gets me more interested in education," Azoca said.
Contreras, who brought her aunt with her, said she is interested in science and was glad that the day included hands-on activities.
"They make it more fun for us to learn," she said.