Yultzin Angeles, a senior at Golden Valley High School, helped a team of peers build a walking robot on a tabletop Friday at Bakersfield College.
Angeles, 17, plans to be a first-generation college graduate.
She attended an event called HerWorld Friday that about 200 high school girls participated in to learn about career fields in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
University leaders and speakers in STEM fields led the group of students in an activity to build walking robots, showed them campus facilities for STEM degree paths and told personal stories about their paths to success.
Angeles listened. Back home, she has two younger siblings that she thinks about when she plans her future.
She thought about them Friday.
"They'll be able to learn from my mistakes or my successes," she said.
Joseph Coppola, president of DeVry University's Central Valley campuses in Fresno and Bakersfield, said about 20 years ago DeVry started the programming initiative that Angeles attended to educate high school girls about STEM careers.
"The impetus behind it was truly women not going into STEM careers and thinking, falsely, that they're not good at math," he said.
According to a report from the U.S. Department of Commerce:
* Women represented 48 percent of employees in all jobs but 24 percent of the STEM workforce in 2009.
* Only 26 percent of women with STEM degrees go on to work in STEM fields.
Coppola said part of the problem in the Central Valley is that minorities in general face socioeconomic barriers that prevent them from attending college.
A stereotype that women are not able to perform as well as men in technical and mathematical jobs amplifies those barriers, many of which the girls in the Bakersfield College cafeteria were facing Friday.
Sam Alvarez, a junior at West High School, said she is the youngest of four children in her family and would be the first to graduate from college -- a goal her parents pushed.
Her mom works as a cook while her dad is a maintenance worker in construction.
"They've sacrificed a lot," Alvarez said.
Michele Bresso, an associate vice chancellor in the Kern Community College District, said she understands what being a first-generation college graduate entails because she's one in her family.
She said she grew up in a poor Italian community in San Francisco.
"My mother made it through high school," she said. "My father never got through the eighth grade."
Bresso not only completed college but continued her education later, most recently earning a doctorate degree in human and organizational systems from Fielding Graduate University last year.
She said she gives the same advice to women as she does to other students.
"You want to see something happen? Take responsibility for it, and make it happen," she said.