Eighth grader Brittany Sandoval was easily drawn in by breakout sessions that offered exciting presentations and hands-on activities from major corporations such as Time Warner Cable, IBM and Raytheon during Student Leadership Day Sept. 25 at the Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology Conference (HESTEC).
Sandoval, a student at Rafael Cantu Middle School in Mission, and an aspiring archaeologist, said she enjoyed participating in the workshops because they offered thrilling experiments coupled with helpful career advice.
"I feel like this is all so interesting and it will help us with our future careers and help us to be interested in different subjects too," she said. "You actually get to see demonstrations and experiments and fully understand the whole concept when it comes to science and technology."
HESTEC Week's second day, sponsored by Lockheed Martin, brought hundreds of eighth grade students like Sandoval to The University of Texas-Pan American to learn about the importance of seeking a higher education, particularly in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) - a fundamental objective of HESTEC, now in its 11th year.
Students started off the morning experimenting with vinegar, baking soda, thermometers and an apple to learn more about transferable energy.
Ringgold Middle School student Victoria Smedley, who participated in the energy transformation activity, said she enjoyed the videos and interactive experiments and was inspired to focus more on her studies.
"I'm glad UTPA is holding this because I like this form of teaching. It shows us more about what something is. We actually get to see what is going on," the Rio Grande City eighth grader said. "Everyone likes these activities better because sometimes a book just gets boring."
Fourteen-year-old Smedley, who participated in several breakout sessions with her classmates, said even before attending HESTEC she was attracted to the field of science, and hopes to become an oncologist. Her interest has intensified after hearing from some of the speakers.
"This is important because we are already getting into high school and we need to start figuring out what we are going to do in the future. I think this helps us a lot with that," Smedley said.
Students also participated in sessions conducted by H-E-B, Marathon Oil and AT&T, where they honed their leadership skills, experienced a driving simulator and had the opportunity to speak with representatives about career options in STEM fields.
Hilda Borrego, a sixth grade science teacher at Fossum Middle School in McAllen, led the "Expanding Energy-Go Round" activity on behalf of Offshore Energy. She said HESTEC's vision of igniting students' interest in math and science is crucial.
"Kids need to develop all the science content area they can and they need to start early. We need to motivate students and make it interesting especially in middle school; they need to realize it is not about their friends. It is about their future," Borrego said. "These kids may be the problem solvers of tomorrow."
Mission Junior High School eighth-grade student Vivian Gutierrez, 13, also took part in the Borrego's alternative energy session and said she enjoyed learning about the various career selections available within STEM fields, and was bolstered by the encouraging message Borrego and the other presenters spoke about.
"It is fun because they explain technology differently to us. If a lesson is hands-on, then it is more fun and I remember it a lot more," Gutierrez said. "I learn the concept more and we need to learn this now because we are already going to high school and then it is just going to get harder."
Seth Taylor, a student worker with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), participated in a cotton gin demonstration called "Growing Population, Scarce Food & Finding Solutions," to show the youths how the machine quickly separates cotton fibers from their seeds. He said HESTEC is the perfect recruitment tool.
"A lot of people with USDA are retiring in the next four or five years. We're trying to get these kids more involved in science because there are so many opportunities in the Valley," Taylor said. "We want them to know they won't be working in the fields. In a USDA lab, you can do anything you want, from a computer designer or welder to a lab technician or a scientist."