February 10, 2014

DiscoverE – Kids and Engineering

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This post is a part of a compensated marketing program to bring awareness to STEM education opportunities and Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day 2014.

Thirty-five years ago the idea of “pushing” girls into science and engineering fields would have been laughable. We just weren’t there. Sure, there were women in these fields but they rarely got top billing. But among friends, there were few women I knew personally who worked in science or engineering fields. It wasn’t seen as “women’s work”.

In the past 10 years there’s been a big push for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education. Organizations like DiscoverE (formerly National Engineers Week Foundation) mobilized to bring programs and opportunities to K-12 education to teach and provide resources to help kids discover engineering and science careers. And with the advent of social media, the opportunities widened.

But we still need things like Engineering Week, Future City, and Girl Day. Because despite all my cheerleading and all the talk about girls and women having greater opportunities in the STEM fields, the reality is that many girls drop out of STEM-focused education at a much higher rate than boys. This, despite amazing women who mentor, coach, and teach young girls about all the cool things they can do with science and engineering.

Girl Day LogoIt’s one of the reasons I seek out girls-only engineering summer programs for BabyGirl. I don’t doubt she can hold her own with boys, but the dynamics of co-ed programs are very different. Often she’s the only girl in a co-ed program. All of her co-ed robotics summer camps have been taught by men and by the second day she’s already working by herself because tween boys are going through their own “issues” with girls and would rather not be teamed with one. That’s completely understandable. It’s not right, but it’s reality.

This past summer, BabyGirl had two phenomenal girl-only science and engineering experiences. A full week at the local university-sponsored engineering camp was filled with solar cars, computer programming, lab tours, and mentor sessions. While there were a few male counselors, it was still all about the girls. It wasn’t pink and sparkly and rainbows. That is, unless that’s what the girls wanted. The shirts were yellow, just like the other co-ed weeks. The games and general programming were the same, too. The only difference was that for 5 days, over 50 girls laughed and giggled and ooh’d and ahh’d over math and science. They were given opportunities to just be themselves and not feel the need to compete for attention.

And thanks to technology, the NASA Girls program brought BabyGirl together with a NASA scientist for 5 weeks over the summer. As one of a select group of girls across the globe, BabyGirl participated in one-on-one conversations and conducted experiments with her NASA mentor. It had such an impact on her that she chose to do a class project based on being able to interview her mentor. It’s experiences like this where young girls begin to grow into the scientists and engineers that will shape tomorrow. It’s also these occasions where young girls learn about themselves and how to tackle challenges and overcome failures that are often the springboard to new discoveries.

When school rolled around and First Lego League robotics took over, for the first time BabyGirl’s team was mentored by the local high school FRC robotics team. While mostly boys, BabyGirl became especially attached to the two girl FRC team-members. Not because they were girls, but because their immediate response to a problem wasn’t to solve it for her. When it comes to getting girls to believe they have a place in STEM programs and careers they need to know they are just as capable.

I dropped out of an engineering program in college. Even though I had a very strong science and math background, had worked with a university professor while I was in high school, and won my category at the Texas Junior Academy of Science being one of the few girls in the program was tough. College is hard enough, but to lack a support system among your peers makes it more challenging. I got tired of fighting, so I just left. I don’t look back with regret, but I don’t want BabyGirl to be faced with the same decision.

There are many great ways to get your kids involved with science and engineering. You can follow DiscoveryE on Facebook or stay connected with the Future City Competition on Facebook and see what the teams are doing or explore more about this year’s theme of transportation.

If you’d like to be more involved, please join the #STEMChat #GirlDay2014 Twitter conversation on Wednesday, February 19th at 9pm ET to celebrate Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day.

Disclosure: This is a compensated post for DiscoverE and the Introduce a Girl to Engineering #STEMChat. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising. Photos courtesy of DiscoveryE.

Sara

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