NCAS is a five-week online workshop consisting of discussions, live video chats with NASA experts and various mission design challenges. Students will then apply for the opportunity to spend four days at a NASA center, getting an inside look at NASA missions and science, networking with NASA scientists and engineers and developing a presentation to showcase their work to a panel of judges.
"I really wanted to apply for the NCAS program just for the chance to be placed in an internship at a NASA facility," said Gonzalez, who wants to major in computer engineering. She added that while she dreams of working at NASA one day, she also has an interest in designing video games if given the opportunity.
Although technology careers are growing in numbers, the growth rate of young women entering today’s tech industry is still in its infancy. While numbers of female graduates with STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) degrees in areas such as biology and chemistry continue to rise exponentially, areas like computer engineering are still experiencing low graduate numbers. According to Girls Who Code, a national non-profit organization dedicated to closing the gender gap in technology, by 2020 there will be 1.4 million jobs available in computing related fields. However, of the 29 percent of the qualified graduates on track to fill those jobs, women will only fill 3 percent.
Learning environments can also project barriers that educators may not be aware of. A 2015 study by the University of Washington surveyed 270 high school students with results showing that three times as many girls were interested in enrolling in a computer science class if the classroom itself was redesigned to be less "geeky" and more inviting and inclusive. Since identity and a sense of belonging are heightened during teenage years, girls are less likely to disengage from pursuing technology classes if non-traditional elements of design are incorporated into their learning spaces, thus eliminating any stereotypical assumptions about tech careers and professionals.
Gonzalez did have some encouraging words for students, especially other young women, who want to enter a STEM-related field. "Don't be afraid to take a step into what you want to do. People assume STEM programs are scary because of the science and math involved, and that fear prevents them from taking that first step forward. The faculty here want you to succeed, and they want to help you any way they can. San Jacinto College has been phenomenal in preparing and helping me achieve my academic and professional goals."