Reyes was one of a growing number of female students who participate annually in Regis Jesuit’s Robotics Club. She discovered her interest in STEM when she attended the Porter-Billups Leadership Academy at Regis University, which provides academic and leadership training to at-risk inner-city students in the Denver area. This fall, she will begin college at Regis U as an aspiring computer science and engineering major. “Knowing they follow the same Jesuit teaching and morals I had for the past four years made me feel safe,” she says.
Yet Reyes also is perfectly comfortable with risk. At the club fair held during her first weeks at Regis Jesuit, she introduced herself to members of the Robotics Club. “They said I could build on what I’d done, and they encouraged me to challenge myself even more.” By sophomore year, Reyes was one of a handful leaders of the co-ed club, and in her junior year, became the captain. The next year, she became a senior mentor. “Single-ed classes provided a space where we could be ourselves,” she said. “Then, when the boys and girls came together to collaborate and build things together, we could appreciate each other for what we brought to the team.” She credited the club’s mentors—who came from Lockheed Martin, Boeing, the Colorado School of Mines and elsewhere—for making sure everyone had equal chance to participate.
Kelly Knechtel, Assistant Director for the Women in Science, Engineering and Mathematics Program at the Colorado School of Mines, believes investments in the community, such as the Science & Innovation Center
, will give female students access to careers they may not have considered. As adviser to the public university’s 700-member Society of Women Engineers, she’s passionate about reducing barriers for women in STEM. “As we engage the next generation of engineers and scientists, educators need to ensure we are providing women with learning experiences, mentors and affinity groups that broaden their perspectives, inspire their confidence and expand perceptions of their own potential in STEM fields.”
As both female and male students express curiosity and creativity across many disciplines, Regis Jesuit is moving boldly forward with Inspire & Ignite 2025
, its strategic plan for access, innovation and excellence. The addition of the 65,000-square-foot future Science & Innovation Center (SIC) will fill many needs: for new technology and tools, and for more advanced academic offerings in STEM, art and architecture, journalism and other creative fields. It also will likely attract top talent to Regis Jesuit—people such as George Mitsuoka, the newly hired Director of the Innovation Center within the SIC. A graduate of MIT, Mitsuoka has had a varied career as a software engineer, technical writer and volunteer mentor to high school students in Denver for nearly 20 years. He also has three daughters, including Ariana ’20, who attends Wellesley College, and Sophia ’23.
Mitsuoka’s vision is bold. “We hope to inspire students with ambitious hands-on projects, motivating and teaching them new skills, providing them with opportunities to build confidence and instilling within them a sense of personal responsibility to take on the world’s challenges.” Working not only with the traditional STEM departments, including science and mathematics, he hopes every department will see the Innovation Center as a resource they will use to improve the student experience at Regis Jesuit High School. “I know our fine arts teachers are already excited about the creative possibilities the Innovation Center will enable. I’ve even begun discussions with our Theology Department about how future service projects can be enhanced by projects such as low-cost water purification for underserved communities.”
“My hope is that students will eventually drive much of what happens within the Innovation Center. We’re eager to give them the skills and tools they need to follow their curiosity and are excited to see where they take it,” he said. “There’s no shortage of problems that need to be solved, and, as all of our students, especially our girls, become better trained and educated, they’ll gain the confidence to solve those problems. They will become better prepared for college and careers where they can continue to learn and grow as creative, brave and entrepreneurial leaders.”
As the campus’s new “front door” the SIC will signal Regis Jesuit’s commitment to the future for industry visitors, prospective families and alumni mentors who, as part of RJ Connect, are returning to campus in greater numbers than ever before.
Sofia Reyes learned all this firsthand, and her experiences are helping inform future plans for the Innovation Center. “Having mentors and the space to explore new fields—like agriculture or biomedical engineering—will encourage more people, especially girls, to choose STEM fields. And I’ll be happy to come back and help however I can.”