- Associated Press - Sunday, April 20, 2014

IRVING, Texas (AP) - Men dug San Xavier mine in another century. They blew the rock apart with chemicals and scraped out copper for wires and machines. In the 1950s, they turned the tunnels into labs to teach the science of the earth to other men.

Last summer, four girls walked into the mine, by then part of the University of Arizona. They were about to start their senior years at Singley Academy - an Irving ISD high school in which students are chosen by lottery. Most of them had never been on a plane before, and even visiting a university was a rarity in their families.

The girls in Singley’s science, technology, engineering and math programs are taking some of the most difficult courses available - in fields nearly devoid of an entire gender. And though they are outnumbered, they’re determined to overcome the odds.

The girls were scientists already. Rubi Garcia had smashed her Barbie radio as a child, then repaired it. Lesly Hernandez was the household electrician to her mother and little brother who would ultimately call herself “the girl who helped wire the robot.”

Deep in the mine, Lesly stared at copper ore in the stone. She had thought it would be brown, but it glittered blue. To her, the metal looked like stars.

Lesly’s grandparents butcher their own meat in Mexico. Her mother manages a food court restaurant and dreams of opening a beauty parlor. Lesly, 18, wants to work for NASA.

Sent to Mexico as a child while her parents gained a foothold in the United States, she would hold hogs beneath her grandfather’s blade. Other girls played with dolls; Lesly wondered how pigs were put together.

Years later in Texas, her mother bought her a microscope kit and she lost herself in the layers of an onion. Her teenage phases were biology, biotechnology and now electrical engineering, with a special interest in robotics. Her friends were mostly boys.

There is one boy, always.

Lesly’s father is out of the picture. Her mother spends dawn to dusk at work or cosmetology school. So each day after class, Lesly drives her old Honda to an elementary school where her brother shoots toward her from the dismissal line like a magnet to its pole.

Asked how she spends her free time, Lesly asks for a definition of the term. Kevin, 6, is at her side throughout the obligations that consume her evenings and weekends: cooking, cleaning, robots, a gender revolution.

Twice a month after final bell, the Girls of Technology meet for bags of candy, charades or movies in a basement classroom. They don’t look like an academic club because they’re really a support group.

Lesly helped found the club as a shy freshman. Now she recruits younger girls into it, watching meetings from the back of the room with one eye on Kevin.

Other evenings, she takes her brother to a classroom down the hall to build the robot.

By February, it was little more than an aluminum frame and a brain of splayed wires. In six weeks, Lesly’s team had to make the robot nearly 4 feet tall, precise, invincible - able to catch and throw a ball in an arena full of rivals.

Story Continues →