Middle School Girls Glimpse Engineering Careers

The top ten college degrees by highest starting salaries are science, technology, engineering and math-related. But only twenty percent of engineering graduates are women. Some Houston middle school girls are being exposed to the possibility of science careers through a unique corporate partnership, as Ed Mayberry reports.

A group of 85 sixth-grade girls from YES Prep had the opportunity to consider engineering during ExxonMobil's eighth annual "Introduce a Girl to Engineering" program at their technical training center in Greenspoint. Darlene Gates is with strategic planning.

"We're just here to generate the next leaders and to inspire them. And so YES Prep was very excited about coming to ExxonMobil and it's a great fit for us. We really have to reach out to these young ladies. When they're in grade six is a perfect time, when they're still, have lots of their future left, to help inspire them."

The girls viewed technology used by geophysicists to find and produce oil and gas, in a full-sized 3D theater screen.

"And so, this is sort of a slice through the earth. So here's the surface of the earth, and these are layers of rock. And so as geologists and geophysicists and engineers, some of our jobs are to try to unravel and try to find areas like this where we can find oil and gas."

Virginia Dunn is a geophysical advisor at ExxonMobil. She remembers being inspired to pursue science at an early age.

"Yeah, my dad was actually a geophysicist also, so I was kinda, he worked for Conoco and I was kind of exposed to the oil industry at a pretty young age. And sometime about this age, I went on a field trip to a mine in New Jersey and saw a bunch of rocks there, and then kind of started collecting rocks from there, and the rest is history!" 

Engineers Rob Stell with Jacobs Engineering and Rick Stell with ExxonMobil Chemicals — they are brothers — demonstrate how different chemicals are distilled from crude oil.

"One of my favorite parts of being a chemical engineer is distillation. And we're gonna do distillation today. In this jar — and I have it marked with three Xs so nobody ever drinks it — four parts water, one part alcohol. I'm gonna put a little bit of that into here, and see if Mr. Rob can light it."

Six grader Jaisa Swasty is interested in science, but comes at it from a social direction.

"Like helping the environment and finding ways to help other people who like are in the war that don't have a lot of the instruments that help the people who get hurt." 

Darlene Gates with ExxonMobil says starting early — with sixth graders — is important.

"It's really important we hit them today, because they're making the decisions today about whether or not to stay in math and science."

Bio photo of Ed Mayberry

Ed Mayberry

Local Anchor, All Things Considered

Ed Mayberry has worked in radio since 1971, with many of those years spent on the rock 'n' roll disc jockey side of the business...