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UNLV all-girls robotics camp aims to close gender gap in STEM fields

Posted at 5:15 AM, Jun 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-23 14:23:14-04

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Professors at UNLV are on a mission to encourage more girls to pursue a career in STEM fields by hosting the Engaging Girls in Ubiquitous Intelligence and Computing camp. Inside the College of Science and Engineering building, dozens of high school and middle school girls are designing robotics and building intelligent transportation and energy systems.

“I wasn’t really, in-depth, thinking about it as a career," said Gia Benavidez, a Clark County High School student. "Now that I am here, I think that it could be possibly something that I reach for in the future.”

Organizers say they wanted to create an all-girl environment when training these girls. They say usually in STEM classes, girls can be at a disadvantage when mixed with boys, as boys tend to demand a more dominant role in the projects.

“They say, ‘OK you just watch and we’ll do it,'" said Dr. Mei Yang, a professor, in UNLV's Electrical & Computer Engineering department. She's referring to how boys generally treat girls in these courses. "But with these all-girl groups, they can shine, because they actually can do this, and they do a very excellent job.”

Research says that girls perform just as well as boys on math and science tests in elementary and junior high, but in comparison to their male counterparts, girls participate less in advanced STEM courses and exams as they get closer to college.

Nationwide, women are underrepresented in science clubs, STEM competitions, and STEM careers. Even at UNLV, only 20% of female students are majoring in programs within the College of Engineering, which is on par with the nation’s average. These statistics are why leaders at UNLV want to close that gender gap, as well as enhance the girls’ self-confidence and sense of belonging in the STEM industry.

“We want to make it a showcase in the future, that we help the community grow with all the contributions we can make,” said Dr. Shaoan Zhang, Associate Professor of Teacher Education, College of Education at UNLV.

GUIC organizers also wanted to contribute by recruiting minority students from Title 1 schools, students with lower economic backgrounds. It's all an effort to build upon a better future for Las Vegas and Nevada.