Where are the women engineers? Women make up only 13 percent of engineering professionals in the United States, and in 2009 less than 20 percent of college engineering students were women — a 15-year low. What’s keeping the numbers so low? And what can we do?
Girls disappear from science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) early: By the end of high school, girls who have previously shown ability in science and math are opting out of STEM courses. It’s not because they lack the skills. Boys and girls show the same aptitude in math and science on tests. It’s because of stereotypes that girls just aren’t good at math and science or that fields like engineering are “unfeminine.” And because engineering usually isn’t taught until college, girls have to reject these stereotypes and seek out engineering opportunities all on their own. Having women role models can show girls that engineering can be a viable career choice for them.
Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, a part of National Engineers Week, is our chance to start changing the statistics. Here are just a few ways AAUW members can celebrate Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day in their communities on February 21 and unlock the potential of future women engineers.
1. Encourage educators to participate in AAUW’s lesson plan contest.
How can we bring engineering into the classroom before college and before girls lose interest? AAUW is looking for innovative lesson plans that get students excited about engineering by making it relevant to kids’ lives and interests. AAUW will give a $100 prize to one national winner. AAUW branches are also encouraged to sponsor a prize for a local winner.
2. Find a woman engineer to share her experiences with local girls.
Girls need role models who can break the mold and show them that engineers come from all backgrounds. Hearing from diverse and successful women engineers shows girls that engineering incorporates many different types of skills — not just solving equations or using computer programs but also employing creativity, innovation, and teamwork.
3. Partner with girls’ groups in your area.
Girls’ groups and organizations can provide great outlets to explore engineering careers in an encouraging environment free from bias. AAUW branches are encouraged to partner with local chapters of groups like the Girl Scouts, the Association for Women in Science, Girls Excelling in Math and Science, the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and Girls Inc. to teach girls about their potential in STEM careers. For ideas, visit the National Engineers Week Foundation list of resources and AAUW’s own activities and resources page for girls.
This February, let’s work together to celebrate the “G” in “engineer.” Have more ideas about how to introduce girls to engineering or honor the achievements of women engineers? Let us know in the comments!
This post was written by AAUW STEM Program Associate Alexa Silverman.