Dr. Gian-Claudia Sciara, a Cooperative Mobility for Competitive Megaregions (CM2) funded Assistant Professor, and Olivia Posner, a Graduate Research Assistant for the University Transportation Center (UTC), participated in conjunction with the Heart of Texas Chapter (HOT) of the Women’s Transportation Seminar (WTS) in Girlstart’s Take it to the Streets Camps in June 2018 in Austin, Texas.
Girlstart offers STEM education across Texas with after school, summer camp, and community STEM programs for girls. The Take it to the Streets Camp was a weeklong set of activities for 4th and 5th grade girls premised on “places to go, things to do, and people to see.” The activities encouraged girls to be their own city planner by learning to “design skyscrapers, engineer roadways, control pollution, explore power solutions, and create beautiful green spaces.” The week-long program of interactive events focused on introducing campers to the transportation field. Events included building a Lego city, learning about urban design, and interacting with a panel of transportation professionals.
The panel served an important role in the week’s activities. Sharlym Aquino Gil, Director of Volunteers & Community Relation at Girlstart, shared that, “Girlstart’s goal is not only to introduce STEM concepts to girls, but to introduce them to careers within the STEM acronym.” Though not in the workforce yet, the campers are not strangers to concepts of transportation planning. Dr. Sciara noted that “The girls come to camp as lifelong observers of their urban environment. Through the Girlstart panel discussions, campers connect their own observations about getting around the city to ideas about working in the transportation field down the road.”
Dr. Sciara and Ms. Posner joined members of the Heart of Texas chapter of the Women’s Transportation Seminar (WTS) for two separate panels on June 7 and June 13. Panelists came from a diverse background and discussed their careers in urban planning, academia, transportation engineering, environmental planning, and landscape architecture. Sharing the overarching needs and priorities of each field with the girls was a very rewarding experience, and panelists enjoyed answering excellent questions from the curious group.
Ms. Aquino Gil noted that “it was great for the girls to learn about the different facets of city planning and the careers involved, and then meet women who are actually in those fields. I know girls left feeling inspired and happy that they were able to ask the panelists questions.”
Ms. Posner relayed the experience, “It’s not easy to connect these lofty ideas of transportation, economic development, and city planning to kids. I loved seeing how each WTS member reimagined their field to make a connection with the girls – ensuring that the campers could see themselves in the larger narrative of how we get to work, enjoy our park spaces, and interact with planning decisions every day.”
CM2’s Assistant Director for Research, Lisa Loftus-Otway and Ms. Mary Jo Galindo (Galindo Environmental Consulting), the HOT Chapter’s Transportation You Committee Chair reached out to Girlstart to set up and organize the panel discussions. Ms. Loftus-Otway is a newly elected director of WTS International and a former President of the Heart of Texas Chapter. She noted that “finding opportunities to talk to young girls who might be interested in the multi-faceted field of transportation and to learn about megaregion issues is a critical component for CM2 as we enter into our third year of operations. We were delighted to partner with the HOT chapter of WTS, of whom many members are graduates of UT Austin. This was a great way to build connections, impart knowledge, and message on the work we are doing for CM2”.
The UTC is proud to build opportunities for workforce development through youth outreach and is looking forward to working with Girlstart and WTS in the future.