Girls like Alice Hou are often the only girls in the engineering club. They’re the only girls on the robotics team and they’re one of three girls, at the most, in a computer science class.
Hou, 16, of Plano is currently a student at Texas Academy of Math and Science at the University of North Texas, and she’s grown accustomed to being the only girl in a class full of boys, but through her foundation, Girls in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), she’s hoping the next generation of women scientists won’t be so alone.
Hou was first introduced to the gender gap in STEM a few years ago when she attended a summer STEM program for women in engineering at Union College in Albany, New York. The first day of orientation took place in the College of Engineering, and during a group break, she went searching for the women’s bathroom. She passed the men’s room, then continued to pass door after door, looking for some sign of a women’s bathroom. The word “Ladies” or “Women.” Something pink. Even the standard silhouette of a woman in a dress.
“I kept walking and I kept walking, and I realized I was going in a circle. I couldn’t find the women’s restroom,” she said, not on the first floor. When the College of Engineering was first built, it was only for men, and when the school finally expanded, they added one women’s restroom – on the fourth floor.
Though the four-story walk kept Hou moving that summer, every step was a subtle reminder that this place wasn’t made for her.
“So to do my part in closing this gender gap, I founded Girls in STEM,” she said, a girls-only, STEM-focused club at Jasper High School that focuses on learning, service and teaching young girls interested in STEM.
The group started with seven Jasper girls, one sponsor and the common focus to increase girls’ engagement in STEM through activities, experiences and community outreach. Over the years, they’ve expanded their membership from seven to 45, and they’ve started new chapters at R. C. Clark High School, the University of North Texas and Centennial High School in Frisco. They also have plans to start chapters at Plano’s senior high schools when the 2018-19 school year begins.
This summer Girls in STEM will hosting its first summer expo at Haggard Library in partnership with DFW Alliance of Technology and Women and r2 Technologies Inc., based in Plano. Starting July 28, the summer expo will offer students of all ages STEM resources to spark a passion for science, technology, engineering or math.
“Students that typically don’t have access to academic resources, especially during the summer when they’re out of school and when tutoring can be expensive, this is just a way for them to learn that STEM can be fun, and it’s not just sitting in a lab doing homework,” she said. “It’s activities that can really spark their interests and make them curious and make them a part of something bigger than themselves.”
As Hou marches toward her last year of high school, she’s prepared to be one of three girls in a classroom full of boys. But, she remains optimistic that future young women won’t endure the same fate. With her passion and her big, beautiful brain, Hou can no doubt craft a world where women always feel like they belong.