February 11, 2014
Here at AAUW, we have a lot vested in the future of girls in STEM-related fields. After all, our own study has proven that it is important — both for girls and for the future of engineering — that the engineering workforce be more diverse and inclusive of women. But what can you, as a parent or sister or scout leader or whatever, do to introduce the girl in your life to engineering? We have some ideas.
1. GIVE HER A HERO.
When little girls envision their futures, they often use women they admire as a sort of template to plan their own dreams. If the girl in your life doesn’t know any famous female computer engineers, chances are she’s not going dream of being the next Grace Murray Hopper. So do what you can to introduce her to women whose legacies are just as important as those of George Washington Carver or Neil Armstrong, whom we all know and love.
This can be as simple as watching TV shows with strong STEM women or bringing up famous women in everyday conversation. It may feel a little strange to point out that a female engineer named Margaret Knight invented the paper bags used in grocery stores, but hey, kids are curious and facts like that are bound to leave a mark.
2. INVEST IN HER IMAGINATION.
From Super Bowl ads to remarks by lawmakers, the extremely gendered nature of contemporary girls’ toys has been in the news a lot.
According to STEM advocates, toys may be something worth worrying about. While it’s fine for the girl in your life to love her dolls, make sure that she has access to STEM-related toys that will both nurture her critical-thinking skills and inspire her imagination.
Since many of these engineering-related toys are oriented around problem solving, they can also make great projects for you and your future engineer to do together. Don’t be embarrassed if you aren’t the world’s best engineer. Seeing you bungle your way through building your own contraption may well inspire her when she’s facing her own frustrations later in life(you know, when she’s just hours away from landing in the history books and wants to quit).
3. WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE.
You may not know it yet, but you’re probably a huge role model for the girl in your life. Being a role model is amazing, but it can be a little stressful, too.
Studies show that girls begin to lose interest in science and math very early in their scholastic careers, and in many cases, their perception that math and science are harder than other subjects may be to blame. Try not to reinforce this stereotype with your own language. If she is having a hard time with her algebra homework, don’t reinforce her discouragement by mentioning that math was once the bane of your existence. Instead help her frame her struggle as a puzzle to be solved instead of something insurmountable and boring.
Kids look to their role models for cues about how to feel about almost everything, so it’s better to face your own fear of long division instead of discouraging the girl in your life away from engineering-related fields forever.
4. GET HER INVOLVED WITH LIKE-MINDED GIRLS.
Image by Todd Kulesza
When I was a kid in school, there weren’t a whole lot of academic clubs that related to science and engineering. I was a member of the quiz bowl team and school newspaper, but that was just about it unless you count the short-lived Spice Girls fan club I founded. Thankfully, things have changed. Many schools and community groups now sponsorrobotics leagues and even host hack-a-thons. Additionally, the Girl Scouts incorporate STEM-oriented activities as a major part of their overall programming, and there are conferences like AAUW’s Tech Savvy that are designed to attract and interest young girls.
To find out if a group exists in your community, start with your local science teachers. Even if there are no local clubs, your interest may be able to help spark something that would benefit girls throughout your community. In addition to local events, look into introducing girls to aspects of the national STEM movement such as Hour of Code.
Getting the girl in your life involved with other future women engineers doesn’t have to be limited to the school year either. The number of engineering-related summer camps is growing each year, including programs such as AAUW’s own Tech Trek. Do your research. She’ll thank you later when she realizes that she isn’t the only girl who is just a little obsessed with circuit boards.
Introducing the girl in your life to engineering is probably looking pretty hands-on, but we promise you, it’s worth it. Every hour you invest in the girl in your life will not only help improve her chance of success but also make her a more well-rounded, engaged citizen, whether she pursues a STEM-related field or not.
Engineering is all about creating something new and when you see the girl in your life flush with excitement over her first “invention,” you’ll know that it’s about creating something beautiful too.
So what do you do to introduce the girl in your life to engineering? Help our readers get some more ideas by commenting below.
This post was written by AAUW Social Media intern Brittany Edwardes.