The University of Texas-Pan American is launching its 12th annual Hispanic Engineering, Science, and Technology (HESTEC) week Sunday, Oct. 6.
Each year, UTPA opens its doors to tens of thousands of students and educators from across the region in an effort to promote education and careers in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. Since its inception in 2002, more than 30,000 students and 7,500 teachers have participated in the weeklong conference. This year's theme is "Launching the Future."
Attendees are exposed to a variety of hands-on activities, dynamic speakers and interactive workshops designed to engage participants in STEM. The U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, H-E-B, ExxonMobil and Shell, among other corporate, government and nonprofit partners of UTPA sponsor many of these attractions.
"We're not funded by the University or taxpayers," said Jessica Salinas, UTPA director of University Events. "We depend on the generosity of our sponsors to make this ambitious effort a reality."
Part of that effort includes organizing throngs of middle school and high school students, as well as educators, into breakout sessions. Each day is tailored for a specific audience and purpose.
With dynamic speakers such as explorer, social entrepreneur and environmental advocate, Philippe Cousteau, and workshops and competitions, students from across the Rio Grande Valley are immersed into the world of STEM in the hopes of inspiring many of them to pursue college degrees and in turn careers in the STEM fields. Latina Day is one of the most heartfelt during the week. Approximately 400 girls and their mothers participate in activities designed to inspire young female students to not only pursue careers in STEM, but also a higher education.
Last year an impact report conducted by the University concluded that of the 800 Latina Day attendees, 40 percent had household incomes below the poverty line.
"It is imperative that we encourage these young girls to go to college and graduate," said Dr. Robert S. Nelsen, UT Pan American president. "It's one of the best ways to ensure economic stability where there is none."
Robotics Day centers on some serious competition. Sixty teams of middle school students built and programmed robots that will battle it out "sumo-style," with one team winning the coveted championship trophy. Each team will build their robot using the Lego Mindstorms EV3, the company's newest product released in August. UTPA will be amongst the first and largest robot competition in the nation to use this product.
HESTEC concludes with a bang on Community Day, Oct. 12. The public is invited to the UTPA campus from 4-10 p.m. for a free, fun-filled day of STEM attractions, games, food and concerts. NASA and SpaceX will be among the many hosting exhibits that day. Little Joe and La Familia, Los Palominos as well as Sebastien de la Cruz will headline the concerts. De la Cruz will be joined by UTPA's award-winning Mariachi Aztlán.