Breaking Through to a Brighter Future
Nurturing the next generation of engineers means more than making bold promises. It requires both time and attention from everyone in our community.
Every year, Heidi Frock and Archana (Arch) Shrotriya mark Girl Day at UT Austin on their calendars. It’s a special event that brings young engineering minds together for variety of hands-on activities that are as educational as they are entertaining. But students aren’t the only ones who leave the event with a bright smile—opportunities like this fill volunteers with a sense of pride for their efforts.
We asked Heidi and Arch to share more about this event and explain why they continue to volunteer for the next engineers.
Arch: You know, sometimes you can talk about theory and it doesn't work. I mean, sometimes you have to play, and you also have to discover that it's fun, because hard things are worth doing if they're also fun along the way. STEM—it is not easy; so what attracted me to Girl Day at UT Austin is this concept of showing that engineering can be fun and it's a journey. It's not something that you learn in a day or anything like that.
And I have volunteered [with Girl Day] for the last eight or nine years now, and every time I see these hordes of little students coming in, not having as much interest, and then suddenly, after playing with the robots and watching the demonstrations, they change—their eyes sparkle.
Heidi: Through my recruiting activities [at the University of Texas], I heard about Girl Day and started volunteering about eight or nine years ago when NI started participating. I have three daughters who are now all grown, so I really enjoyed connecting with the girls and getting them excited about engineering.
I didn’t have role models when I went to engineering school. I didn't even know what an engineer did. So, I volunteered in robotics programs and in Girl Day for those kids who do not have any engineers in their family, or anybody who can tell them what engineering is. I want them to understand that engineering is fun and exciting.
Arch: If you look at the numbers of female engineers, even though the numbers are increasing, we still don't have as many as we need. Having a diverse workplace with female engineers offers a different perspective. I know that I brought a different perspective to the workplace. So, it's different and good—it really helps us with our diversity initiatives and what really matters is that it's making a difference.
Heidi: I have a picture that has one of our volunteers with this Girl Scout troop that was so excited watching their robot come to life. And even when I was a robotics mentor for all those years, just seeing when that spark goes off after they see something work—it's really exciting.
Heidi: I have three daughters, and one of my daughters actually went to the University of Texas. About two or three years ago, she was volunteering with the Computer Science Department in another room for Girl Day. So, seeing my daughter do the same thing—teaching and mentoring girls in STEM—it’s just really exciting.
Arch: So we were volunteering, and I was in the throng of these kids and suddenly two familiar faces walk in. They turn out to be Eric Starkloff (NI CEO), and Scott Rust (NI senior VP, product R&D). They were there because they had come for the opening of a new laboratory. So, they came in, and I asked if they were here to volunteer. They said yes. “Oh!” I said. “OK, great!” Then, there I was training Scott and Eric on how to demonstrate a robotic puppy—that was quite memorable.
Arch: If you think about our mission and what NI does, our activity provides real-life experiences. So, putting a robot—a real robot—in their hands, and teaching them how to program the robot, shows real engineering in action.
Arch: A few years ago, some student-volunteers were telling me that they picked this event because when they were younger, they had attended this event and it inspired them.
So, they wanted to come back and volunteer because that's what inspired them to become an engineer. So [they were] not, not kids, but actual [university] students, which I think is even better because they're already on the STEM track. That was so exciting.
The Women in Engineering Program in the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin will host more than 10,000 children, parents, and educators from cities across the state and beyond for its 20th annual Girl Day at UT Austin. Historically a one-day, in-person event, Girl Day 2021 will include 10 days of virtual activities and experiences that help spark creativity, inspire future careers, and show how engineers and scientists can change the world. Elementary and middle school students will engage in activities and hands-on educational experiences, from designing a balloon-powered car to watching physics and chemistry in action. Girl Day at UT Austin includes Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, an international event celebrated during Engineers Week each year, and the Girl Day STEM Festival.
To learn more, visit Girl Day at UT Austin.