A Xavier student explains astronomical concepts to a St. Louis the King student during the first "Girls Have IT Day" in 2009. The idea is to show young women that they can be scientists and engineers and still make a vital difference in the world. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)
A Xavier student explains astronomical concepts to a St. Louis the King student during the first “Girls Have IT Day” in 2009. The idea is to show young women that they can be scientists and engineers and still make a vital difference in the world. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

At Xavier College Preparatory, everything is for girls. Most especially those classes and clubs — like math and computer science — typically filled with boys.

The school’s webmaster and technology program director set out to give their girls a stronger chance of falling in love with those “boy” subjects a bit earlier. They launched “Girls Have IT Day” five years ago, a cooperative effort among their own students and local junior high girls still deciding what they want to be when they grow up.

They wanted to promote young women’s involvement in science, information technology, engineering and math-related careers, commonly called “STEM” careers. Five years and thousands of students later, it appears they have succeeded. Participation from junior high students doubled since 2009 and Xavier students who oversaw “Girls Have IT Day” activities are and will be responsible for vital research as current or future college students of STEM study.

An article released earlier this month by Northern Arizona University reported in part on Rosie Alling, a 2010 Xavier alumna. She is part of the first group of students getting field experience in conservation biology through a four-month program in Saipan, a U.S. Territory island south of Japan.

Amaris Benavidez, a sophomore at Xavier, is already set on becoming an engineer.

“It’s pretty much the only field I want to go into,” Benavidez said.

She wanted to attend the first “Girls Have IT Day” as an eighth-grader, but couldn’t. Benavidez got involved freshman year instead.

“The key moments for me were every time that I saw girls learning something new and having fun while doing it,” Benavidez recalled from last year. “At each of those moments, I knew that it was worth everything I put into it.”

This year’s “Girls Have IT Day,” scheduled for March 1, is in partnership with the Ira. A. Fulton School of Engineering at Arizona State University and is part of the Arizona SciTech Festival. A record 530 junior high girls plan to attend.

Emily Weissinger, a Xavier alumna and associate with an environmental consulting firm, will give a short lecture followed by hands-on STEAM-focused activities — art is now included — hosted by members of 20 related student clubs.

Sr. Joan Fitzgerald, BVM, principal, said Xavier’s interdisciplinary approach to science, technology, engineering, art and math inspires creativity, critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

“We host Girls Have IT Day each year to inspire the younger girls in our community to embrace STEM and to begin to make a difference today,” she said.

Xavier students are already making a difference. The school’s Engineering Projects in Community Service classes continue to draw high interest each semester. Ten of them earned an Aspirations in Computing Award from the Arizona affiliate of the National Center for Women in Information Technology earlier this year.

Deborah Magish, the junior high science teacher at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Scottsdale, continues to do her part to interest girls in science. She gives extra credit if students “go out into the world” of science during the academic year. She has brought 30-45 girls every year to “Girls Have IT Day.”

“We’re still not producing, not encouraging girls to get as involved as they’re capable of,” Magish said.

She sets out each year to debunk the stereotypes about women and science. Her students seem to be getting it. She has had several students, male and female, become engineers or are still studying it in college. Two of her girls were part of a team that won the People’s Choice Awards, an Engineering Award and second place in region during a Future City competition earlier this year.


Girls Have IT Day
1-3 p.m. March 1
Xavier College Preparatory, 4710 N. 5th Street.

Ambria Hammel is the staff writer for The Catholic Sun. She began reporting for the award-winning newspaper in 2006.

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