Las Vegas, N.M. – More than 140 fifth-grade girls from the Las Vegas, New Mexico, area and Pecos schools gained hands-on career knowledge from New Mexico Highlands University science faculty and community members at an American Association of University Women (AAUW) “Girls Can” program May 16 at the university.
The Las Vegas Chapter of the AAUW joined forces with Highlands to present “Girls Can” in order to generate early interest in science, technology, engineering and math, collectively known as STEM, and other careers.
Highlands forestry professor Julie Tsatsaros, along with Highlands natural resources management students Renee Hernandez and Nikita Tenorio, taught a water cycle workshop at “Girls Can.”
“The girls learned how important having a healthy watershed is and when a watershed is not healthy, we can have issues such as flooding and drought,” Tsatsaros said. “The girls also learned how quickly we can lose our watershed resources of topsoil and water, along with how easily our surface and groundwater can be polluted.”
Tsatsaros praised “Girls Can” as a great way to introduce young girls to science and technology and for them to understand that women can be important leaders and educators in STEM fields.
LillyAnna Martínez, a fifth-grader at Union Elementary in Las Vegas, participated in Tsatsaros’ workshop.
“It’s been fun to have hands-on experience at Highlands today,” Martínez said. “It’s interesting how soil and water work together in this experiment. I want to be a biologist someday.”
Las Vegas AAUW members Carla Romero, a Highlands business faculty member; Cheryl Zebrowski, a retired librarian from the university’s Donnelly Library; and Patricia Mendoza, a fifth-grade teacher at Sierra Vista Elementary in Las Vegas co-directed “Girls Can” at Highlands.
“With ‘Girls Can,’ we encourage girls to believe that anything is possible in their careers,” Romero said. “We chose women to present the workshops and they are all wonderful role models.”
Other presenters included Highlands chemistry professor Jiao Chen, along with an architect, a podiatrist, a University of New Mexico women’s basketball coach, a lawyer, a police officer, a musician, a librarian and a geographic information systems specialist, among others.
The keynote speaker for “Girls Can” was Highlands alumna Barbara Perea Casey of Las Vegas. Her career as a bilingual educator, superintendent and state legislator spans 40 years. Currently, Perea Casey serves on the Las Vegas City Council.
“If you set your mind to doing something, you can do it,” Perea told the girls. “I want you to know it doesn’t matter where you’re from or how much money you have. It’s what’s in your brain that will get you what you want. Stay in school and never give up on your education in order to fulfill your dreams.”