“ALL students should engage in creative problem-solving activities and hands-on project-based-learning programs. [It] seems like much of this is still limited to the gifted and talented programs, but ALL students — and our community and world — could benefit from gaining these skills.” – Tricia Berry, USA

Getting young people – especially girls – interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers has been a frequent topic here at Daily Edventures. We’ve explored the work of organizations like Girls Who Code, which is working to engage girls in computer science, and last spring, we announced The Big Dream Movement, which connects girls to organizations and resources that will help them pursue STEM careers. We know that the gap between employer needs and job candidates’ training is significant, and we also know that girls have been especially underrepresented in these in-demand fields. For educators like Tricia Berry, this challenge has become a career-defining call-to-action.

As director of the University of Texas’ Women in Engineering Program, Berry has led efforts to recruit and retain women in the Cockrell School of Engineering since 1999. But her commitment to the cause – and her work – go well beyond her job description, earning her a place on STEMconnector’s list of 100 Women Leaders in STEM.

Berry “walks the talk” as director of the Texas Girls Collaborative Project, which connects Texas organizations, companies and individuals working to advance gender equity in STEM fields in coordination with the National Girls Collaborative Project. She’s also a Life Member of the Society of Women Engineers, and a leader in organizations like the Women in Engineering ProActive Network (WEPAN). Berry is also co-founder, Executive Vice President and Chief Creative Officer of 825 Basics, which provides tools to help people discover their career passions, and then develop strategies to pursue them.

Berry cites a lack of role models and negative stereotypes as key barriers to success for girls and women in STEM fields.My program exists so that we may support students who have not had role models along the way or who aren’t perhaps as confident in their engineering skills,” she tells us. “We create leadership, mentoring and career opportunities for them so they all can see the opportunities and advantages of an engineering career in the future.”

Earlier this year, Berry’s work earned her a Women of Distinction award from the Girl Scouts of Central Texas, recognizing of all of the work she does to advance the opportunities for girls in science and technology. She’s a one-woman powerhouse who not only exemplifies what women can achieve in the realm of technology, but what is possible for girls in fields that may not have welcomed their talents in the past. With crusaders like Tricia Berry on the job, we can feel confident that the tide is finally turning. Enjoy today’s Daily Edventure!

What drew you to the field of education? Why is it important to you?

I have always loved helping others and have loved learning. The education space I fit in uses my engineering background, my MBA skillset, and my love of teaching and learning to excite the next generation of engineers. I love being able to use my experiences within the programs I lead and the workshops or classes I teach to help others in their careers and educational pursuits. It’s rewarding to me seeing those who I have reached go on and succeed in amazing things in their lives and careers.

Can you tell us about a favorite teacher, or someone who made a difference in your education?

One of my favorite teachers was my high school science teacher. She always was taking extra classes in the summers to learn more about science and technology. She loved science and wanted all of us in her classes to love science. She invited me to be a lab assistant during my later years in high school and I got to help prepare the labs and set things up for her in the class.

Please describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education.  What has changed as a result of your work?

One of the areas I have worked hardest in — and presented across the country on — is effective messaging to engage girls in particular, but really all students, in STEM. I feel that my efforts in this space have transformed the language used in outreach programs, camps, marketing and media materials, websites, and other communications for those in my own organization at The University of Texas at Austin, and those in the schools and organizations where I have worked. I am extremely proud when I hear UT faculty and staff or school teachers or engineering volunteers talk about how engineering makes our world safer, healthier, and happier.

How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?

We are using social media widely to spread the messages about how to engage girls in STEM and to counter stereotypes in engineering.  We use Twitter and hashtags to get people to rally around an effort and spread the word about work we are doing.

We also have used mobile apps and online systems to sign up volunteers for programs, manage 2000+ participants and check-ins for our award-winning Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, and to communicate to staff about program logistics.

In your opinion, how has the use of apps, cellphones, and mobile devices changed education? And your work?

We are able to communicate in a different way and incorporate new ways to measure, evaluate, document and share through technology. Hands-on projects can be shared beyond the classroom walls. Students can be engaged in the inquiry process throughout the lessons by looking up answers and information on the spot. We can text reminders and capture responses in real time to check for understanding. The possibilities continue to grow and we just have to continue to be creative, embrace the possibilities, and be comfortable with the kids teaching us a thing or two about how to best use the technology in education and life.

In your view, what is the most exciting innovation happening in education today?

I love seeing schools loosen the technology restrictions, allowing kids to use cell phones and tablets in creative ways in the classroom. Allowing kids to shoot a video to answer an essay question or create a photo gallery to describe a process is amazing and opens up a whole new realm of learning…and documenting, sharing, assessment, etc.

Is there a 21st century skill (critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, or creativity and innovation) that you are most passionate about? Why?

Problem solving – if you can’t problem-solve, you can’t do any of these other things! If you don’t know how to collaborate, you problem-solve to figure it out. If you don’t know how to communicate, you problem-solve to figure it out. If you can’t come up with a solution (or several solutions or pathways) to solve a challenge, you are stuck. Without viewing problem-solving as part of our everyday lives, the world is just one big obstacle. Problem-solving allows the impossible to become possible…often in creative and innovative ways!

If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?

Access to an unrestricted and free speech Internet – when kids can get online, explore the world, and learn the answers to their questions they can begin to dream big!

What is your country doing well currently to support education?

In the STEM space, there are great partnerships across business, informal education providers, K12 formal education systems (schools, school districts), higher education institutions, and government agencies to improve STEM education across the region. These partnerships have led to increased role model and mentor engagement, more STEM camps and afterschool programs in the community, increased hands-on, project-based-learning programs in schools, etc.

How must education change in your country to ensure that students are equipped to thrive in the 21st century?

ALL students should engage in creative problem-solving activities and hands-on project-based-learning programs. Seems like much of this is still limited to the gifted and talented programs, but ALL students — and our community and world — could benefit from gaining these skills.  We need educators comfortable with the problem-solving process and we need state testing to not dominate our education world.

How can teachers or school leaders facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?

Teachers and school leaders can familiarize themselves with the basic research in the area of engaging girls (and all kids) in STEM. They should at a minimum read the Changing the Conversation Report by the National Academy of Engineering and the Why So Few? Report by the American Association of University Women. 

How have you incorporated mobile devices/apps into your classroom and have you seen any improvements?

We have students take pictures and videos and use social media to share our efforts.  We have seen improvements on students feeling a part of our community, feeling connected with each other, and being excited about their major and the work they are doing. Celebrating what they are doing via social media gets them excited and encouraged in a different way!

About Tricia Berry, Director, Women in Engineering Program, The University of Texas at Austin
Austin, Texas, USA

  • Birthplace: Illinois, USA
  • Current residence: Austin, Texas, USA
  • Education: BS Chemical Engineering, MBA
  • Website I check every day: BusinessInsider.com, facebook.com, twitter.com
  • Person who inspires me most: My parents – they instilled in my sister and me the belief that we can do anything and we will be successful.
  • Favorite childhood memory: Ihave lots – my favorites these days are around lazy summer days biking all over town with my friends with periodic stops at the Dairy Queen or the soda fountain at the pharmacy for a refreshment break.
  • Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Peoria, Illinois (already in Illinois on vacation) – heading to the Caterpillar Visitor Center with kids to explore engineering and technology of BIG tractors and equipment.
  • When was the last time you laughed? Why? This morning – my kids make me laugh all the time with the things they do and say.
  • Favorite book: All – love to read!I love fiction of all sorts – mysteries, drama, romance, historical fiction, etc.
  • Favorite music: Christmas music – I get to listen to it for a short amount of time so it makes it special.
  • What is the best advice you have ever received?  Make your value visible – meaning don’t assume that others will notice your accomplishments or those of your organization; sometimes you have to toot your own horn and make others see your value and the contributions you are making.
  • Your favorite quote or motto: Subtract before you add – meaning before you add something else to your plate, consider what you might need to drop off of your plate.
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