NCLR Goes to NASA for 2016 STEM Youth Summit

With Space City as our backdrop, NCLR recently welcomed Latino students and teachers from our national Escalera network to Houston for the 2016 NCLR STEM Youth Summit, generously supported by Shell and Chevron. Young Latinos had the opportunity to immerse themselves in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines through a variety of hands-on activities and educational workshops. The STEM Youth Summit was not just a weekend of science exploration, but of STEM empowerment.

The goal for the NCLR Líderes team was to create a space where Latino youth could freely tap into their potential and see STEM careers as realistic, attainable goals. The team did this through exposure to Mobile Oil field exhibits, a NASA tram tour, as well as a screening of the documentary Underwater Dreams, which included remarks from Oscar Vazquez, a STEM-advocate and U.S. Army veteran who is featured in the film.

During the STEM Life Map workshop, Latino engineers shared their individual journey into STEM and offered participants a chance to learn from their experiences. Their stories shed light on some of the structural and academic barriers that continue to plague the Latino STEM pipeline, as well as the cultural ones that often go unaddressed. One speaker, Stephanie Garza, commented on the lack of support she received at home when she first mentioned wanting to become an engineer. Though her family members doubted her ability to thrive in a male-dominant field, Garza pushed on and went on to become a power solutions engineer. Her story and those of others echoed the power of strength and perseverance.

We rounded off our first night in Houston with a celebratory dinner where we welcomed Vazquez to join us. Before a crowd of more than 120 students and teachers, he recounted his remarkable story of entering—and beating the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—in a national underwater robotics competition with three of his high school friends. He also spoke at length about the tremendous hardship he faced as an undocumented student. Vazquez noted the need to broaden opportunities for all Latinos regardless of their immigration status, and urged Latino students to dream as big as he once did.

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