Empowering dreams

Alumna Birong Hu will fund a cohort of 25 middle school students to participate in Girls in Engineering in the summer of 2024

Birong Hu (M.S. ’00, computer science) is helping to pave the way for a new era of engineers, unlocking boundless opportunities and transforming futures.
Girls in Engineering visit the Treehouse Cancer Lab at UC Santa Cruz.
Girls in Engineering visit the Treehouse Cancer Lab at UC Santa Cruz.

Birong Hu (M.S. ’00, computer science) has a message for young women interested in STEM: “Believe in Yourself!”

She reinforces this message through her support of UC Santa Cruz’s Girls in Engineering (GiE), a summer program that provides middle school students opportunities to engage in hands-on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning.

“Girls face mounting barriers to pursuing educational and career paths in STEM,” Hu says. “They don’t always receive the encouragement and opportunities [that boys do]. And for girls from underrepresented backgrounds that’s even more true. So Girls in Engineering is a program that is very important to me.”

According to a study by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), 74 percent of middle school girls express interest in STEM fields and subjects.  By the time they reach high school, however, only 15-20 percent of girls continue to express interest in pursuing STEM careers. Their fading interest can be attributed to a variety of factors, including limited exposure to role models, lack of hands-on experiences, and social pressures. A lack of female representation in STEM fields can lead to feelings of isolation and underrepresentation for young girls.

UC Santa Cruz’s Girls in Engineering offers middle school students opportunities to explore and reinforce their interest in engineering. During the week-long summer camp, students build, code, and fly drones; visit state-of-the-art research labs; create their own robots; and explore careers and educational opportunities available to them in the STEM fields. Importantly, they see and interact with college students, scientists, and engineers who mirror their backgrounds and lived experience—allowing them to envision themselves learning and working in STEM. 

“I have been so lucky to have been surrounded by brilliant women when I was in school and in the workforce,” Hu says. “These girls, especially if they are seeking a scientific career, can benefit so much from role models and leaders.”

Girls in Engineering has proven to be the experience that encourages students to stay on the path toward higher education and careers in STEM. Past participant Sophia Natividad was in Girls in Engineering as an eighth grader. Today she is a biochemistry major at the University of Chicago working toward a career in research. Girls in Engineering also inspired Iris Manriquez—now a software engineer at Twitch—to pursue a career in STEM.

“Girls in Engineering shows students that this future is an achievable option for them—and allows them to truly imagine it,” she says.

Hu’s gift will fund a cohort of 25 middle school students to participate in Girls in Engineering next summer 2024.

Hu has a stellar STEM background.  She received her B.S. degree in biochemistry from Peking University, M.S. in computer science from UC Santa Cruz, and Ph.D. in molecular biology from UCLA. Early in her career, she worked as an engineer at Ventro Corporation and Agilent Technologies in the Bay Area.  Her professional career has also included translating and publishing two educational books from English to Chinese. She co-founded a bilingual children’s library, Peekabook House, which has grown into a well-recognized independent children’s library, with several branches in Beijing and Tianjin. 

In 2015, she partnered with fellow alumni of Peking University to form SV Tech Ventures. Since its founding, SV Tech Ventures has been active in investing in early stage startups mainly in the areas of healthcare, new energies & materials, consumer products, IOT technology, and media & telecommunications.  Hu serves as the financial controller at SV Tech Ventures. She recently joined the UC Santa Cruz Baskin Engineering Dean’s Council.

“Council members can play a key role in opening doors for faculty and students. We really view them as valued partners,” says Alexander Wolf, Dean of Baskin School of Engineering. “Birong’s success brings an important network to Baskin Engineering, and we are grateful for her active participation in the council.”

Hu is impressed by UC Santa Cruz’s commitment to supporting students, particularly students from historically underrepresented backgrounds, on their college pathways. 

“I think public universities should play a role [in creating opportunities],” Hu says. “If public universities don’t, then who will? UC Santa Cruz is really doing a better job than even the larger UCs. UCSC pays more attention to underrepresented students and has accepted more this year.” 

Of the 5,500 new Banana Slugs admitted this year, 34 percent will be the first in their families to attend a university, a 27 percent increase over last year's admitted cohort, and 37 percent are from low income families. UC Santa Cruz extended admissions offers to 1,723 African American high school and transfer students from California, 11,206 Chicanx/Latinx California high school and transfer students, and 304 American Indian high school and transfer students from California.

“I’m so happy—and really honored—to contribute to Girls in Engineering. I would really like to see these girls go on to college. I want them to know they can do it. If they work hard, take the tough courses in high school, and believe in themselves, they can set the foundation for their success,” Hu says.

Girls in Engineering is one of eight programs in the Educational Partnership Center (EPC) at UC Santa Cruz. The EPC increases access to higher education for underrepresented students across the Monterey Bay, Pajaro Valley, and Silicon Valley.