November 2015

With two other undergrads and three other grad students, I helped out at the Women's Energy Network's (WEN) 12th annual Young Women Energized (YWE) event. A lot of acronyms...

   We set up a small booth and then later broke into small discussion panels to talk to some Houston high school girls about getting a degree in STEM, going to grad school, working in the oil and gas industry, etc. Most of the students I talked to were graduating in 2017 and had little or no clue what they wanted to do. Most think they will declare a single major without having the option to change it, get stuck in that particular field and have anxiety and guilt over not already knowing what this major is going to be. I could hear myself from 9-10 years ago, going through the same feelings. I hope I helped some students. Two of the girls I talked to in the first panel approached me in the end to tell me that they somewhat felt better about not having a clear idea yet, and both are now considering geosciences as their major. YAY!

   Let's talk about the event itself. The biggest criticism I have is about the event logo and the banter almost all of the speakers had about putting make-up on, wearing high heels and having nice hair. I realize the event is for high school girls, but... Seriously? That's what you want to talk about in an event where declaring STEM majors is the main topic? "You can be an engineer and still be pretty!" is a weird way to approach this discussion. It is too stereotypical.

Your typical STEM major girl.

Your typical STEM major girl.

It all reminded me of how they try to create a Computer Engineer Barbie persona (among others) to make the feminine, one-dimensional doll into a busy, talented, smart, empowering character. While doing so, they touch on more stereotypes like the girl needs help from guys to get her computer fixed...    

I digress. WEN gives out a lot of scholarships to high school students, and events like this are great to educate young girls on declaring majors, deciding on working for the oil and gas industry or choosing to do research. They are a great organization, I'm glad they exist. I just really wish the need for this "You can be STEM and still be a pretty girl!" advertisement would stop. I worked with a fair amount of sexist men on drilling rigs. Trust me, these girls don't have to be reminded that after going for STEM, they might be the minority in the workplace but they can still be feminine. There are enough people out there who will go out of their way to do exactly that. 

Adeene, our double-majoring, versatile undergrad posing with my old hard hat, a.k.a. what a real STEM major girl looks like.

Adeene, our double-majoring, versatile undergrad posing with my old hard hat, a.k.a. what a real STEM major girl looks like.

Rice Earth Science students who volunteered to assist with the event. From left to right: The grad students Sriparna, Ruth (who is been to Antarctica!), and the undergrads Adeene and Kelsey.

Rice Earth Science students who volunteered to assist with the event. From left to right: The grad students Sriparna, Ruth (who is been to Antarctica!), and the undergrads Adeene and Kelsey.

Us waiting for girls to ask about the well logs, seismic data or the very dirty orange coveralls in the background.

Us waiting for girls to ask about the well logs, seismic data or the very dirty orange coveralls in the background.

Hundreds of high school girls screaming to answer some questions to win a prize.

Hundreds of high school girls screaming to answer some questions to win a prize.