There are many reasons Meylin Davila wanted her daughter to attend Ursuline Academy, but the most important one goes back 20 years. Working at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas – and building computers as a hobby on the side – she noticed a male colleague earning sometimes up to $60 an hour installing and monitoring commercial fire systems.
He was part of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, IBEW, the largest (750,000 members) organization of electrical workers is North America. Davila wanted in but she was a woman, an uncommon sight among electrical workers back then. “He suggested to me I become an apprentice and because I was female, he thought the three-year, not the five-year program was best,” Davila said. “Two weeks later, I had signed up for their five-year apprenticeship."
“The idea that because I was female,” she said, emphasizing the word female, “I should take a shorter route was unacceptable to me.” And that is the reason her daughter, Ainhoa Chavarria, is at Ursuline Academy now, a bright-faced Kindergartener jumping early into the many Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) programs available. It is a major investment by the school to elevate the sciences and math – beginning in elementary school.
Ursuline Academy introduced Project Lead The Way (PLTW) in the 2016-17 school year, a comprehensive approach to STEM education for students in K-4th grade. The program builds confidence early on – with hands-on projects that enable students to problem-solve and grow comfortable with science, technology and engineering. Among many projects, UA girls have built a robot to deliver supplies to a hospital, created a rescue apparatus for a trapped zoo animal, designed systems to prevent the spread of illnesses and invented new games on computers.
By the time an Ursuline girl enters 5th grade and continues into high school, she’s comfortable building medical prototypes, designing robotics, programming computer tools, and solving engineering dilemmas.
"There is also something to be said for fomenting a love for lifelong learning," Davila said. “Knowledge is power,” said Davila. “The more you know, the more you work. It’s all about having those opportunities, to always keep learning and as a young woman to be exposed to math, science and engineering because that is the world.”
For Davila, her apprenticeship led to her becoming a journeyman, later foreman and eventually, a general foreman. Far from being easy, it was a fight at every level. Each time, she proved herself. She’s designed and installed fire systems in everything from a small office to a high-rise.
Throughout, she’s continued her education, and fearlessly declared, “Teach me something. I’ll pass your test. I can pass any test.”
Davila said she wants the same confidence for her daughter. She values that an Ursuline education is designed to empower young women with confidence – even in fields that might seem unattainable to them because of gender. She wants to see Ainhoa grow up to dispel the myth that a girl can’t be in the sciences, or in a technical field, for that matter.
“It’s a huge deal to me. It’s the main reason I chose Ursuline,” she said. “And I am glad. So far, she really doesn’t want to come home after school. She’s actually upset she can’t stay in school longer. And that makes me happy.”