Girls from Chaparral Middle School learn about STEM, life as future Aggies

The Chaparral Outreach Program in Chaparral, New Mexico, began in fall 2019 with 90 girls at Chaparral Middle School. The program, created by staff members in the NMSU College of Education, encouraged girls to pursue STEM careers and higher education studies at NMSU.

In fall 2019, the Chaparral Outreach Program in Chaparral, New Mexico, kick-started the STEM Sisterhood program to encourage seventh- and eighth-grade girls to explore STEM careers and pursue their education at NMSU.

While the program was met with a successful start, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought progress to a halt. NMSU College of Education staff members Erika Acosta, Michelle Sterling-Rodriguez and Yomara Rios-Laurenzana ’19 are hopeful they can secure funding to continue the program.

The STEM Sisterhood began in November 2019 as a pilot project at Chaparral Middle School with 90 girls. However, 200 girls at the school expressed interest in participating.

“Since we were going to take the girls to in-person labs on the NMSU campus, such as the robotics lab and the flight simulation lab, we could only accommodate so many girls,” Acosta says. “We were looking into continuing the program with 2020 summer camps, but then COVID happened.”

The initial funds that made the STEM Sisterhood possible were part of legislative funding given to the Chaparral community to raise STEM awareness among teachers, students and families. The funds paid for transportation for students to the NMSU Las Cruces campus, meals at Taos and special T-shirts for the girls. The kickoff included a forum featuring a diverse group of current NMSU female students in STEM-related degrees, then continued with various hands-on workshops in the College of Education, College of Engineering and Doña Ana Community College.

Members of the STEM Sisterhood at Chaparral Middle School participated in labs on the NMSU campus in fall 2019, including the robotics lab and the flight simulation lab at O’Donnell Hall. The program was poised to continue through 2020 until the COVID-19 pandemic threatened funding and participation.

The funding also helped the outreach program give scholarships to more than 65 Chaparral High School graduating seniors to help pay for registration and orientation fees.

“What we found in talking to the teachers is a lot of times, we don’t have the time or resources to be able to help students who need guidance with higher education and career exploration,” Acosta says. “Some of these girls had never stepped foot on a college campus before, and with this program they were able to walk around campus and see themselves as future Aggies.”

Rios-Laurenzana, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from NMSU, says seeing the girls participate in the STEM Sisterhood was inspiring for her as a student.

“It was my senior year in college, and I don’t think you realize how much you need a role model to follow until you’re older,” Rios-Laurenzana says. “I think the STEM Sisterhood was an amazing example of keeping these girls moving forward as women in STEM.”

To learn more about STEM Outreach Center programs visit stemcenter.nmsu.edu/funding-sources.

Adriana M. Chávez ’19