Valley mothers and daughters get fired up about STEM at HESTEC's Latina Day
Posted: 09/26/2012
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Learning science became as exciting as watching a fast-paced action movie for hundreds of Rio Grande Valley mothers and daughters who gathered Sept. 26 at The University of Texas-Pan American for Latina Day during Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology (HESTEC) week.

Female Region One GEAR UP students were joined by their mothers or other female relatives at Latina Day Sept. 26 during Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology (HESTEC) week, where they heard about the career opportunities in the STEM fields.
By exploding a flower pot, setting his hand and a small house safely on fire, and dangling a person in mid-air while on the UTPA Fieldhouse stage, stunt and special effects coordinator Steve Wolf shared the simple science concepts behind a number of the spectacular feats he has created for movies and TV.

Wolf said "science is within reach of any student" and he hopes, through his presentations, to draw more students into science, which he considers essential to solve the challenges people will face in the future.

"I hope people take away from my show that science is a lot of fun, it empowers you to do things that are interesting, engaging and challenging, and that the fundamentals of science are very simple. Essentially fifth and sixth grade science concepts are all that are needed to do what I do," he said.

Wolf has 24 years of experience in creating stunts and special effects for movies like "Cast Away," "A Time to Kill," and "Crocodile Dundee II," and TV shows such as "America's Most Wanted," "Rescue 911, and "All My Children." A winner of Time Warner Cable's Best Science Presentation of the Year award, he has travelled nationally with his "Science in the Movies" presentation, which he uses to teach the basics of physics, chemistry, mathematics, mechanics, heat electronics, engineering and computers. His future projects include hosting a special on the Discovery Channel about the Hindenburg disaster in which he will build and blow up three large-scale models of the infamous German airship (zeppelin) that caught fire in 1937 killing more than 30 people.

During his humorous and action-packed presentation, he told the mothers how important their support is to their children and described how his mother willingly agreed to be the person he would raise into the air on a home-made pulley he constructed while in grade school. He also advised the students to take risks.

"If you are willing to take risks, you can get great rewards," he said.

In his morning presentation during Latina Day Sept. 26 for Valley mothers and their daughters, presenter Steve Wolf demonstrated how he used simple science concepts to create some of the effects, like setting someone on fire, seen in movies the stunt and special effects coordinator has worked on.
Before the attendees left the Fieldhouse to hear from successful STEM role models in a number of breakout sessions, they were also greeted by Tina Atkins, director of Region One GEAR UP; Carmela Gale, manager of Programs, Laser System Division, Northrop Grumman; and UTPA alumna Samantha Silvas (BS '09), Team Lead-License Management US, ExxonMobil Informational and Technology. ExxonMobil and Northrop Grumman are both sponsors of Latina Day.

Atkins, Gale and Silvas all stressed the need for more students, particularly women, to enter and be successful in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. They also described the opportunities available to them if they obtain higher education.

Gale said no matter what career a student pursues, what is important is how they perform in that career.

"Performance is a value that you can never give up," she said. "Give your best no matter what the challenge is."

Norma Rocha and her daughter Ruby, an eighth-grade student at Edcouch-Elsa Middle School, said they enjoyed watching Wolf's performance.

"I laughed," Norma Rocha said.

Norma Rocha said she appreciated what the University and GEAR UP have done to help expose her daughter and other girls to higher education.

"It's great because they give you information you don't normally get," she said. "You can't find people like that everywhere who are willing to help."

At lunchtime, the girls and their female relatives heard a performance by UTPA's Mariachi Aztlán and a keynote speech delivered by Judith A. Canales, acting deputy under secretary for USDA Rural Development.

Judith A. Canales, acting deputy under secretary for USDA Rural Development, delivers the luncheon keynote address during HESTEC Latina Day.
Canales talked about being raised in Uvalde, Texas by parents who supported her desire to pursue higher education. She earned an associate degree from Southwest Texas Junior College, a bachelor's degree from the University of Texas at Austin, and master's degrees from Trinity University in San Antonio and Harvard University.

Her parents -- her father being one of the first people in their community to graduate from college and her mother finishing high school at a time when it was uncommon for women to do so -- served as great examples for her and others in her hometown, she said, and it is her responsibility to be a good example for others. She also encouraged the girls to set a good example for future generations.

But she warned them that nada es fácil -- nothing is easy.

"As you pursue your dreams, there will be times where someone may say to you, 'Do you really think you can do that?'" she said. "You don't listen, you go around that person, get away from the obstacles. Continue with whatever it is that you have to do to pursue your goal."

The girls and women also heard from the Cano family, father René, son René Jr. and daughter Roxanne Cano-Mickelson, who all serve in the U.S. Navy. The Canos all talked about how the U.S. Navy allowed them to pursue higher education and have a better quality of life.

HESTEC continues Thursday with Robotics Day, when students from 40 middle schools throughout South Texas will compete for iPads and other prizes by constructing and operating robots.

Visit the photo gallery to see more of the Latina Day morning session and luncheon.

For more information on HESTEC activities, visit