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Posts Tagged ‘engineering’

LEGO Friends Heartlake Vet

“Is that for me? Cool!”

That was the response from my 8-year-old after I brought home the LEGO Friends Heartlake Vet set I won in an office raffle. There were no comments about the pastel colors, flowers, butterflies, stars, hearts, or even the characters on the box. The more than 300 pieces quickly joined hundreds of their little plastic friends that were already littering my dining room table. The Friends line, which consists of 23 sets that follow the story of five tweens living in make-believe Heartlake City, is targeted at girls ages 6–12. My child is a boy.

In contrast to his reaction, the launch of LEGO Friends last December was met with skepticism, disappointment, and frustration  as a gender-based marketing ploy. LEGOs, like many other construction-based toys that are marketed to boys, are widely recognized as foundational tools for developing spatial skills and the ability to mentally construct three-dimensional forms from two-dimensional images. Spatial visualization is important to later success in engineering and other scientific fields. While boys tend to outperform girls in cognitive tests of visual and spatial abilities as early as preschool, our 2010 research report Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics points out that girls’ success can be cultivated with practice and simple training.

Human Minifigures LEGO Friends Heartlake Vet

This is where LEGO Friends misses the mark. Its simplified construction process, along with its emphasis on the themes of caregiving, playing dress-up, shopping, baking, and other stereotypically girly activities dumbs down the accomplishment of following instructions to master a task. Even the human minifigures in the Friends set are more distinguished by feminine physical appearance — they’re taller, curvier, and more fashionable and doll-like than traditional LEGO characters — than they are by any life or career potential.

The initial thrill of any new LEGO set for my son has always come from putting it together by himself. The afterglow of that achievement generally wears thin within a few weeks, though, and then those same sets mesh into a hodgepodge of other creations. In this case, the veterinary clinic has since been destroyed by a rampaging Hulk, Thor, and other Marvel Avengers in an epic battle against the super villain Loki.

My son’s creativity and enjoyment were not restricted by the gender limitations of the product. And after the millions of dollars that were already spent to market and sell these toys, I’ll assume that LEGO Friends aren’t going away any time soon. I just hope that moving forward, Heartlake City lives up to what LEGOs for girls can really be.

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Living and learning communities for women students are a new phenomenon in engineering schools all over the country. One of the many goals of these communities is to bolster the retention rates of women engineers as well as to help combat some of the stereotypes against women in the engineering fields. Hypatia Women in Engineering Learning Community (Virginia Tech), the Women in Engineering Program (University of Texas, Austin), and Women in Science and Engineering (University of Iowa) are just a few examples. As a rising junior in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Maryland, College Park, I have had the opportunity to be involved in one such community on my campus, Flexus.

Flexus, meaning “change” in Greek, is a two-year program at UMD for women engineering students that has proven to be a great way to get involved in the engineering school and get acclimated on a campus of over 26,000 undergraduate students, 4,500 of whom are in the engineering school.

Most of the young women in my freshman dorm were in Flexus, and this gave us an immediate bond for the next nine months. In our first semester, the program also clustered our math, science, and Introduction to Engineering classes. Since the UMD engineering school is only 20 percent women, having this community of peers right down the hall was extremely beneficial in the many aspects of college life.

There was also a weekly seminar for everyone in the program. During freshman year, we discussed topics including résumé building and how to network at a career fair or professional society meeting. The seminar also included a self-defense lesson with the UMD police chief and a class dedicated to rebuilding carburetors with the dean of the mechanical engineering department.

Sophomore year, the class became more devoted to personal and professional development, including classes on learning styles; the issues women face in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) workplace; and how to write cover letters and negotiate salaries. Each semester also included a networking event with alumni and an end-of-semester project researching a specific engineering major or company.

Both years, we participated in service projects such as the Developing Revolutionary Engineers and Mentors conference,  Girls Excelling in Math and Science, and pre-college programs like Keys to Empowering Youth and Girl Scout Engineering Saturday.

Without Flexus, I wouldn’t be as familiar with the engineering school, and because of the support it provides, I am definitely going to finish my degree in engineering. It has been beneficial academically, professionally, and socially, and I hope that these types of communities continue to gain popularity in colleges around the country. I hope to encourage more young women to study engineering and let them know that living and learning communities are supportive environments that can help along the way.

To learn more about AAUW’s efforts around STEM, visit our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter.

This post was written by former AAUW STEM Programs Intern Haley Crock.

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Each month this year, AAUW is teaming up with Nature Publishing Group, one of the world’s leading science publishers, to put together an online forum on women in science. The AAUW posts highlight findings from our 2010 research report, Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, now in its third printing.

As described in yesterday’s post, sociologist Shelley Correll found that boys assess their mathematical abilities higher than girls with similar past mathematical achievement. So what difference does this make?

Correll found that higher mathematical self-assessment among students of equal abilities increased students’ odds of enrolling in high school calculus and choosing a quantitative college major. In her sample, she found that boys were 1.2 times more likely than their equally capable female counterparts to enroll in calculus. When girls and boys assessed themselves as equally mathematically competent, the gender difference disappeared, and girls and boys were equally likely to enroll in calculus.

Likewise, 4 percent of female students compared with 12 percent of male students in Correll’s sample chose a college major in engineering, mathematics, or the physical sciences. Although controlling for mathematical self-assessment did not eliminate this gender difference in college major choice, it did reduce the difference.

These findings suggest that gender differences in self-assessment — separate from any differences in actual ability — can partially account for the disproportionately high numbers of men in the quantitative professions. It makes sense that if girls don’t believe they have the ability to become a scientist or engineer, they will choose to be something else.

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When Elizabeth Bragg became the first American woman to earn an engineering degree in 1876, it seemed certain that women would advance in the field. Following in Bragg’s footsteps, Kate Gleason became the first woman to be admitted into Cornell University’s engineering school in 1884 and later became the first woman associate of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. In addition to these formally trained women, self-taught scholars such as Emily Warren Roebling, who took over the building of the Brooklyn Bridge when her father-in-law and husband were unable to assist, used her aptitude in math and physics to make the decisions necessary to construct one of America’s best-known monuments.

Today, women earn engineering degrees in a wide range of topics including chemical, civil, mechanical, and computer engineering. However, according to the new report Stemming the Tide: Why Women Leave Engineering, women make up only 11 percent of all engineering professionals even though they represent more than 20 percent of all engineering graduates. In an attempt to find the cause behind this gap, the authors surveyed 3,700 women with engineering degrees. Their findings reflect those in AAUW’s Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics report. Many women said that they left the field because they felt undervalued by their supervisors and peers and disliked the workplace environment. Others left because they lost interest in the field, wanted to spend more time with their families, or were unhappy with their working conditions and salaries. Several women said that they felt alone in a male-dominated field.

But this should not discourage women who want to enter engineering or who are currently within this field. There is a lot we can do to recruit and retain more women engineers, including identifying and celebrating the outstanding engineers of today. Limor Fried, who earned her master’s degree in engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is a shining example of a successful woman in engineering. She graces the cover — the first woman to do so — of April’s edition of Wired, a top technology magazine. Many of her projects are fun, insightful, and useful, including several social-defense mechanisms such as the Wave Bubble, which jams cell phone signals to thwart annoying chatters in public.

Women like Fried are setting a great example for younger girls and helping to increase awareness and appreciation of women engineers, and AAUW is working to do the same! To increase the number of women engineers and make work environments more welcoming, AAUW is collaborating with nine other organizations, including the Society of Women Engineers and the Association for Women in Science, to introduce 10,000 10-year-old girls to the field of engineering by May 8, 2011, as part of the 10 for 10 campaign.

To join our work on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), find us on Facebook or Twitter @AAUWSTEM.

This post was written by AAUW STEM Programs Intern Gaby Obedoza.

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Each month this year, AAUW teams up with Nature Publishing Group, one of the world’s leading science publishers, in an online forum on women in science. The AAUW posts highlight findings from our 2010 research report, Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, now in its third printing.

In the wake of the White House’s Women in America report and in preparation for Equal Pay Day on April 12, let’s talk about pay equity in science and engineering.

Occupational segregation accounts for the majority of the pay gap between men and women. But even within the same occupation, men tend to earn more than women. This chart shows the gender pay gap in various science and engineering fields along with the percentage of women in each field. Although women still earn less than men do in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, women in science and engineering tend to earn more than women earn in other fields.

In fact, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the 10 best-paid bachelor’s degrees in the class of 2010 were all engineering, computer science, or information science degrees. Additionally, the pay gap between men and women in STEM fields tends to be smaller than in the population as a whole (where women earn, on average, 77 percent of what men earn) and smaller than in many other fields.

STEM careers can provide women with a greater degree of economic security than many other fields, which is another compelling reason to encourage girls in science and engineering.

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Each month this year, AAUW teams up with Nature Publishing Group, one of the world’s leading science publishers, in an online forum on women in science. The AAUW posts highlight findings from our 2010 research report, Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, now in its third printing.

Some people suggest that women are underrepresented in certain science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields because boys outnumber girls at the very high end of the math test score distribution. In other words, girls’ and women’s math skills hold them back from pursuing STEM careers.

This argument is not convincing to me for two reasons. First, girls have made large inroads into the ranks of children identified as “mathematically gifted” in the past 30 years, while women’s representation in mathematically demanding fields such as physics, computer science, and engineering has not kept pace.

And the second reason — even more compelling than the first, in my opinion — is that the science and engineering workforce is not populated primarily by the highest-scoring math students, male or female. Researcher Catherine Weinberger found that fewer than one-third of college-educated white men in the engineering, math, computer science, and physical science workforce scored higher than 650 on the math section of the SAT, and more than one-third scored below 550 — the math score of the average humanities major.

So even though a correlation exists between high school math test scores and later entry into STEM education and careers, very high math scores are not necessarily a prerequisite for success in STEM fields.

What do you think?

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It was an enriching, busy, and hectic time for AAUW staff and volunteers at the 55th U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, but our U.N. representative Carolyn Donovan kept us all on track.

We started off with a remarkable panel hosted by the Girl Scouts entitled Girls Voices: A Global View of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Girls led the event and were the stars — as they were throughout the CSW. We heard about their struggles in classroom, including  taunting from boys about not being smart enough or worthy. A young chess champion spoke of the disrespect she faced when her opponent “refused to shake my hand or certify the match” after she won. A Cameroonian girl told us in a powerful speech that “because I am a girl, I will cook food while my brother does science homework.” She shared the frustration of having 10 computers for the 1,000 students in her school and the aggressiveness of boys in physically keeping girls from using the computers. The participant from Indonesia spoke of her desire to progress in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) so that she can have a strong career. Every voice made it abundantly clear that access to and participation in STEM is a universal issue for girls. The speakers’ experiences mirrored each other — whether they were from the United States, Cameroon, Indonesia, or somewhere in between.

We know that AAUW’s research report Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics has permeated the general population since one of the teenage participants spoke of a “fixed mindset” and “growth mindset,” concepts that were featured in the report! AAUW of Pennsylvania member and National Girls Collaborative Project Liaison Dot McLane shared key findings from the report and engaged the audience with many of the recommendations that seek to increase girls’ and women’s participation in STEM.

AAUW’s Jill Birdwhistell delivered a statement (found at 1:15:16 in the webcast) during Panel 1. Throughout the week, we heard from women leaders who are champions for women and girls: Ambassador-at-Large Melanne Verveer, astronaut Mae Jemison, White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, and actress Geena Davis.

AAUW co-sponsored an excellent panel hosted by the Virginia Gildersleeve International Fund entitled the Cutting Edge: Technology and Its Impact on Work, Wealth, and Women’s Leadership. The panel highlighted the transformative ways in which technology is expanding opportunities for women to access financial resources and conduct financial transactions, the need for women to create wealth for women, and the importance of microfinance.

In collaboration with World ORT, AAUW hosted a panel entitled Why So Few? How to Attract Many. I moderated the panel, which featured AAUW’s Andresse St. Rose (who also did double duty on BPW International’s great panel Putting Gender on the Agenda), Valerie Khaytina from World ORT, and two inspiring female students studying in STEM fields. The discussants shared successful models and recommendations for cultivating achievement and persistence in STEM.

I was privileged to attend the historic launch of U.N. Women, where U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon told the audience about the formation of the new group. “We did it for the girl who cannot go to school simply because she is a girl,” he said.

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