This last Saturday I volunteered at Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, put on by the University of Texas at Austin’s Women in Engineering Program:
There were 2,500+ girls in 1st-8th grade wandering around the engineering block of UT’s campus, exploring different activities facilitated by north of 700 volunteers. I can only speak to my own experience (I didn’t get to see every activity), but I think it was a really fun and worthwhile experience.
In our room, we had the “Don’t Sink the Titanic” activity. Basically this consisted of giving the girls 1 square foot of aluminum foil, 1 foot of masking tape, a couple rubber bands, two straws and 6 popsicle sticks… using that hodge-podge of materials, they construct the best and strongest boat they can, and compete to see whose boat can hold the most golf balls without sinking.
The record was 46!
To put that in perspective… the most one of the volunteers was able to get was 33. These girls were pretty amazing.
Getting girls and young women excited about the so-called STEM areas of study (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math for the uninitiated), has long been a concern for education and science policy. It’s events like this that can try to help reduce the gender-gap in these areas by getting girls excited about building things and creatively solving problems.
But we still have a long way to go. Events like this one can plant the seed, but it will take a sustained effort by parents and educators at all levels to help that seed flourish and bear fruit.
I work in a research group of about 17 people. Two of them are women. That’s a ratio that needs to change. The good news is that it is (slowly) changing. And with a vigilant and sustained effort, we can get more girls excited about science.
So, go ahead: introduce a girl to engineering, introduce a girl to physics, introduce a girl to biology, introduce a girl to robotics, zoology, climate science, Python and astronomy. We need them, and it’s up to all of us.