$1M donation aims to grow Girls STEM Pathway program at Space Center Houston

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Space Center Houston received a boost for its STEM program that the donor hopes will help shrink the gender gap.

Space Center Houston offers a number of programs to get kids excited about science, technology, engineering, and math, also known as STEM.

The Girls STEM Pathway program at Space Center Houston was on full display Wednesday, which gave about 30 students from Bayside Intermediate a hands-on feel for what working in a STEM career could be like.

"I didn't realize my reflexes were that bad," said Bayside Intermediate student, Brenna Bernhardt said, who wants to be an engineer.

The fact the majority of those jobs are filled by men only fuels her.

"This opportunity has been really, really fun, and I would recommend it to anyone," Bernhardt said.

It's a passion her teachers see in female students. However, they aren't sure why it fades over time.

"Somewhere along the way, we lose them," Bayside Intermediate teacher, Marie Yancey explained. "We're not quite sure where. We want to make sure that they know that they're special."

Fifty years ago, women made up 8% of the STEM workforce. Three years ago, it climbed to 27%. This means that men still make up the majority. In Houston, it's worse. Only 24% of STEM workers are females. With more private space companies coming to Houston, STEM jobs are expected to grow by more than 10% by 2030.

They're good-paying too. They pay almost $90,000, which is more than double the average salary in Houston.

One place where girls learn about STEM got a boost Wednesday. Dhaval Jadav donated $1 million to Space Center Houston. The majority of workers the Alliantgroup co-founder employs are women. A big reason why he donated was to help get more females into STEM.

"Females are just better," Jadav said. "Us men, we have egos, we want to win. Females are always looking at solutions."

Space Center Houston officials said the money will help get more underserved communities to its classrooms.

"A gift like this will enable us to dramatically increase the capacity for students to come up with the resources to come here and be in our programs," Space Center Houston president, William Harris explained.

It's a place sparking interest and could help fill STEM's gender gap.

"As a young woman, I believe that is wrong because I believe women can do just as well as men can do," Bernhardt said.

Space Center Houston said 200,000 Houston-area students utilize its STEM programs a year. And it's not just kids.

It provides programs and scholarships for teachers. Wednesday's donation will give opportunities to communities they haven't reached before.

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