An event geared toward recruiting girls to CAST STEM High School in the Southwest Independent School District became a night of testimonials from women who pursued careers in STEM fields.

Women from CPS Energy, Holt CAT, and H-E-B told those gathered at Southwest Legacy High School on Wednesday night how they pursued their careers in science, technology, engineering, and math. The audience, made up mostly of CAST STEM corporate and community sponsors, then followed students from Southwest Legacy High School’s Engineering Team into their workshops for discussions and demonstrations.

“What started as an evening for recruiting young girls into STEM turned into listening to women in STEM who were once young girls,” said Aja Gardner, principal of the new high school. “We were able to show our community partners what CAST STEM is all about.”

CAST STEM High School Principal Aja Gardner (right) addresses the audience during Wednesday evening’s event.
CAST STEM High School Principal Aja Gardner (right) addresses the audience during Wednesday evening’s event. Credit: Sean Wood for the San Antonio Report

The first 150 freshmen of the Centers for Applied Science and Technology STEM High School start in the fall of 2018. Ninth and 10th grade students will attend classes on the Southwest Legacy High School campus before moving to Palo Alto College for the 11th and 12th grades. CAST STEM will be the second CAST high school in the area. CAST Tech High School opened this fall in the San Antonio Independent School District.

Getting girls into STEM-oriented high schools, then college majors, and eventually into STEM jobs is a continuing challenge. Women hold fewer than 30 percent of STEM jobs.

Elisandra Ramos, an eighth-grader at Frances Scobee Middle School in the Southwest district, was the only middle schooler on hand Wednesday night. The 13-year-old and her mother said they are eager for classes to start.

“I think I’m going to have fun here,” Elisandra said. “I’ve always been interested in STEM. I love building things.”

Her mother, Jennifer Ramos, said the plan had always been for Elisandra to attend Southwest High School. “She does have slightly mixed emotions because she was always going to be a Dragon,” Ramos said. “But it’s exciting for her. It’s a brand-new school and a brand-new opportunity.”

The CAST STEM program offers students the chance to earn up to two years worth of college credits by the time they graduate, according to its website. They also could earn workforce certifications while exploring careers in engineering, advanced manufacturing, global logistics, energy, and power. These areas align with the school’s industry partners, which include Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas, CPS Energy, H-E-B, Holt CAT, Zachry Group, Caterpillar, and Port San Antonio, among others.

Ariana Fiel, 18, (right) a senior on the Southwest Engineering Team runs a robotics demonstration with her teammate, sophomore Laura Davis, 15.
Ariana Fiel (right), 18, a senior on the Southwest Engineering Team, runs a robotics demonstration with her teammate, sophomore Laura Davis, 15. Credit: Sean Wood for the San Antonio Report

The chance to attend a STEM high school is something 16-year-old Autumn Rodriguez said she would have enjoyed. The high school junior is project manager of the Southwest Engineering Team and was a member of the panel.

“My mother used to be a scientist and she was my motivation,” Rodriguez said. “She said a woman should always encourage other females into career paths that weren’t traditional.”

Sean M. Wood

Sean M. Wood

Sean M. Wood spent 19 years as a print journalist, 17 of those as a business writer, before leaving to make a living. He still has a storytelling itch that needs scratching.