Grand Challenge Centennial Workshop Encourages Women in STEM


Grand Challenge Centennial Workshop Encourages Women in STEM


From left, judges Elliot Shapleigh, former Texas State Senator; Krystal Long, CEO of GECU; and Veronica Escobar, county judge; pose with the 24 UTEP students who took on 2013's Grand Challenge Workshop.
From left, judges Elliot Shapleigh, former Texas State Senator;
Krystal Long, CEO of GECU; and Veronica Escobar, county
judge; pose with the 24 UTEP students who took on 2013's
Grand Challenge Workshop.
Photo courtesy of Aaron Cervantes.

Dedicated to positively influencing the Paso del Norte region, The University of Texas at El Paso's Mike Loya Center for Innovation and Commerce is hosting its second annual Grand Challenge Workshop to encourage students to recognize a broad issue of high socioeconomic importance and to propose creative and innovative ways to address the issue.

The workshop will take place Friday, Sept. 19 in UTEP's College of Business Administration (COBA) room 309 and Texas Gas Student Service Center (located on the first floor of COBA), and Saturday, Sept. 20 in COBA room 323 and the Texas Gas Student Service Center.

Aaron Cervantes, coordinator for the Mike Loya Center for Innovation and Commerce, said the workshop was designed to teach students to be innovative, creative and socially responsible.

"The Grand Challenge Workshop allows students to experience working in a cross-discipline environment, to feel the pressure of a real-life project that needs to be addressed in a short period of time, and at the same time gives them a chance to be innovative while they transform their region into a better place," Cervantes said.

Serving as a philanthropic initiative, the event will offer no prizes or winners per se. However, Cervantes hopes the event will inspire more students to make change in the community and the global spectrum.

Last year, former Texas State Senator Elliot Shapleigh's Grand Challenge was to address financial literacy issues in the Paso del Norte Region and 24 students rose to the challenge. The panel of experts was comprised of Rodriguez; Krystal Long, CEO of GECU; and county judge Veronica Escobar.

The challenge for this year's workshop is to design public and private policies that will profoundly increase the number of women majoring in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in the U.S.

"As the top university in the U.S. for social mobility, nobody knows better than UTEP that talent can be found in all social groups, regardless of ethnicity, socioeconomic status or gender," said Richard Schoephoerster, Ph.D., dean of the College of Engineering.

Schoephoerster, who has served as the University's dean of engineering since 2007, has always acknowledged the importance of diversity and is a faithful supporter of programs designed to address the underrepresentation of women in the various STEM fields.

"Women are significantly underrepresented in engineering nationwide despite decades of effort to achieve appropriate representation," Schoephoerster said. "The innovation engine of the U.S. is less than what it can be because of that."

A recent study by the National Science Foundation shows how women continue to be underrepresented in STEM fields despite a 6.9 percent growth of women graduating with STEM degrees from 2011 to 2012.

Even by 2012, women still constituted only 39 percent of the nation's awarded bachelor's degrees in STEM fields and 33 percent of awarded master's degrees.

Despite the national statistics of women's underrepresentation in STEM fields, UTEP has been ranked No. 1 in percentage of doctoral degrees awarded to women in engineering by the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE). UTEP's College of Engineering earned this distinction by awarding 40.5 percent of its doctoral degrees in 2013 to women, which is almost twice the national average of 22.4 percent.

Even with an increase in the pool of qualified women graduating with STEM degrees, a study by Nadya Fouad, Ph.D., and Romila Singh, Ph.D., at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee demonstrated women often do not stay in the field.

In an attempt to shed more light on the issue, Schoephoerster proposed and designed this year's challenge as an open initiative to generate awareness and search for solutions.

"As UTEP engineering achieved regional parity with ethnicity, we should also be able to do the same with gender," Schoephoerster said. "We are on a major drive to increase the number of female students and faculty in the College of Engineering. In addition to the large percentage of women in our doctoral programs, of the 20 faculty hired in the last three years, half of them have been women. We are confident the participants of this year's Grand Challenge Workshop will provide the solutions we need."

All policies developed by the teams during this year's challenge can help increase the number of women majoring in STEM fields at UTEP and can also have a national impact.

On Friday, Sept. 19, the workshop will begin with registration and check-in at 3 p.m. On Saturday, Sept. 20, the workshop will continue after breakfast at 7 a.m.

After students have drafted their policy proposals, the results will be presented for evaluation to a panel of experts comprised of Schoephoerster; Ming-Ying Leung, Ph.D., from the College of Science; and Richard Martinez from White Sands.

Students looking to make a change in the region are invited to enter the challenge. Participation is open to all students and faculty. Those wishing to join must RSVP to Jessica Talavera via email at or by phone at 915-747-8731 by Friday, Sept. 12.

For more information on the workshop and related activities, visit