Group works to upgrade girls’ interest in tech

A group of female students at Seymour High School is stepping out of their comfort zone and proving that technology classes don’t have to be just for the boys.

And their teacher, Bob Sexton, hopes more girls follow their lead.

On March 3, Sexton took the 10 girls to the Indiana State University campus in Terre Haute for the 10th annual Females in Technology (FiT) for the Future Conference. A couple of them had attended the previous year.

Females in Technology is an organization within the university’s College of Technology to encourage more women to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). FiT conducts outreach programs, activities and conferences throughout the year geared toward getting female high school students interested in STEM before they graduate.

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Those participating from Seymour were Ester Baltazar-Felipe, Wendolinne Zarate-Bailon, Natalia Garcia-Godinez, Abby Schmidt, Jadyn Ruble, Megan Robertson, Sofia Segovia-Nunez, Kaitlin Bogard, Jocie Turner and Katie Sandlin.

The girls range from freshmen to juniors, and their interests vary from robotics and computer programming to engineering and design. They are at different levels of study with several enrolled in introductory classes and a couple taking more advanced courses.

Sandlin, a sophomore, said when it comes to technology, she likes being able to use it and know how it works.

“I just like building things,” she said. “We’ve done a couple of projects using VEX robotics, and that has been my favorite. Robotics is something I think I might like to go into. I would love to try programming one.”

The daylong FiT for the Future Conference gave the group the opportunity to explore careers available in technology and engineering through hands-on activities and workshops. They also got to meet and ask questions from professional women working in a variety of technology-related fields.

Students signed up for the workshops in which they were most interested, including robotics, construction and mechanical engineering, architecture design, aviation and health technology, packaging engineering, electronics and computer engineering, human resources, information technology and automotive engineering.

Turner, a freshman, said she was involved in a workshop in information technology where she got to design an app.

“It was a pretty simple app, kind of like a simpler version of Snapchat, but it was still moving forward and learning something,” she said.

Baltazar-Felipe, a sophomore, said she was amazed by some of the uses of technology. One of the sessions she took let her work with a robot that simulates childbirth providing realistic training for doctors and nurses.

“You wouldn’t think that would involve technology,” she said. “But it does, and it’s so cool.”

Not only did the experience solidify the girls’ decisions to take technology classes at Seymour High School, but it got them more excited about how far they can go.

“It showed us how many girls actually want to be there doing this and gave us an example of people that have succeeded in their field,” said Ruble, a junior.

As a class assignment, Ruble said one of her favorite projects has been designing a house for Habitat for Humanity.

Being a girl and pursuing a career in a male-dominated field does not come without some sense of intimidation, but they have found a way to use that to their advantage.

“Honestly, I like the challenge,” Baltazar-Felipe said.

Although there’s nothing wrong with women staying home if that’s what they want to do, there are many options available today for women, Bogard said.

“It’s always been a male-dominated field, so it’s great for a woman to be able to find her place through these careers,” the sophomore said. “It lets a woman be more of an individual.”

Once the boys realize their female counterparts are serious and just as capable of understanding and doing the work, their attitudes change.

“Most of them ask me for help,” said Zarate-Bailon, a sophomore. “They are the ones that are intimidated having girls in the classroom.”

That can be a real boost in self-confidence, she added.

Zarate-Bailon is interested in pursing a career in computer programming and said by taking technology classes, she feels like that is possible.

Turner said she always has had an artistic side and has been interested in interior design and decorating.

“But being in design engineering, I’ve realized there’s so many more aspects to it,” she said. “It’s something that involves math and STEM type work.”

Garcia-Godinez, a sophomore, said she is able to use the gender bias as an advantage.

“Sometimes, they think they are going to beat us or do better on something, and that makes us competitive,” she said.

Sexton said he is proud of the girls’ commitment and work in his classes and knows many of them will have successful careers in technology in the future.

He would like to offer a technology course just for girls, not to segregate them from male students, but to help attract those students who may be interested but are too intimidated by the boys to try.

Several of the girls said they prefer having boys in their class and suggested other ways to get girls involved.

“I think just by telling them about FiT would help because it was really awesome,” Turner said.

Baltazar-Felipe agreed.

“I think having more out-of-school activities and just promoting it more,” she said.

Sexton said he would never discourage girls from taking any technology classes.

“I don’t think it would keep girls from being in the regular classes,” he said. “I think it would encourage some students, who may not otherwise, to explore something that could become their passion.”