Phillips 66 helping girls reach for the stars — and Mars

By Allison Stowe
Phillips 66 Corporate Communications

Phillips 66 is helping girls reach for the stars — and the sun, the moon and Mars — as the presenting sponsor of the Girls STEM Academy at Space Center Houston.

The company signed on in the spring to be the main supporter of the program, which is designed to encourage middle-school girls to explore science, technology, engineering and math subjects. Numerous studies have found that middle school is the time when many girls start to lose interest in STEM subjects.

“The Girls STEM Academy presented by Phillips 66 is a great program, filling a critical need,” said Phillips 66 Brand and Reputation Manager Tami Walker. “We love that it’s setting up this next generation of thinkers and doers so that they have the skills and confidence to tackle the world’s challenges.”

Phillips 66 has long been an advocate for STEM education. Space Center Houston — a leading science and space exploration learning center, the official visitor center of NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston and a Smithsonian-affiliate museum — started the Girls STEM Academy in 2012. The intent was to give Houston-area schools access to tools and experiences they wouldn’t typically have, such as access to NASA experts and to learn about robotics and technology using hands-on educational activities. 

James Wigfall, Space Center Houston education manager, said the STEM field is changing quickly, with the market constantly demanding new job skills.

“Girls STEM Academy students will be the ones that have to fill those jobs,” he said. “So it’s our duty and our obligation to expose them to these experiences through this program.”

As part of the academy, Space Center Houston holds two five-week sessions a year, one in the spring and one in the fall. For each session, Space Center Houston selects a school in a low-income area that receives Title 1 federal funding, and the school in turn selects the girls who will attend the program.

During the spring 2019 session, the girls as a team flew drones through a series of obstacles simulating a mission from Earth to Mars to rescue a rover from space. Taylor Ardoin, a student at the Tekoa Academy of Accelerated Studies in Port Arthur, Texas, said she was skeptical at first that the team would be able to accomplish the mission, but she found a sense of confidence when she completed the program.

“It shows that if we put our minds to it, we can do it,” she said.

Wigfall said outcomes like that are his motivation as an educator.

“My job and my duty here is to light that spark in our students that will never be extinguished,” he said, “so they will be able to go forth and actually have careers in STEM, in aerospace, in engineering, and in other fields that they feel empowered to do.”