Campus event aims to combat stereotypes of women in STEM fields

Think engineering isn’t complicated enough? Try being a woman engineer.

Earlier this month on April 2, more than 80 junior high girls and 40 parents attended Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, a day hosted by Olivet Nazarene University’s Engineering Department in Reed Hall of Science allowing sixth, seventh and eighth grade girls the opportunity to learn from and ask questions to women about career fields in science, technology, engineering and math.

“We’re very excited about this event and how well it went,” Faculty Mentor for the Olivet chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) Amanda Luby said. Luby’s role in the event was to help the members of SWE plan, organize and run the event. Additionally,
she was a member of a panel for a session held for parents that discussed how to encourage girls in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

Luby was introduced to engineering through physics, she said. A homeschooled student, Luby said her parents let her take a physics class her senior year since she enjoyed a physical science class she took as a freshman.

Though neither of her parents had taken physics themselves, Luby “quickly fell in love with physics, particularly the aspects of physics that deals with electricity and magnetism.” Her interest led her to consider engineering as a career and eventually teaching engineering, she said.

 

Luby’s personal journey to a STEM field inspired her to get other girls involved. “I believe that it’s important to introduce girls to STEM fields because it’s a historically male-dominated domain,” she said. “Take a look at any engineering school – you will find far more men than women in attendance. Olivet’s percentage of women in engineering is around 20 percent of the engineering student body, which is on par with the national average,” she added.

Luby said that this can often make girls feel intimidated or unwelcome, even if they do enjoy math, science or engineering – the goal of the event was to combat those feelings and show the girls that women are significant to STEM fields.

“Introducing girls to STEM can help by showing girls that they can succeed in these fields and that they can contribute just as well as their male counterparts can,” Luby said. “[At the event], the girls were divided into groups, each one named after a famous female engineer or scientist and led by female [Olivet] engineering and computer science students. Our hope was to connect these middle schoolers with older students who can serve as role models of success in engineering as a female.”

According to a 2016 study titled “Demographic Characteristics of High School Math and Science Teachers and Girls’ Success in STEM,” having more female high school teachers in math and sciences can lead to boosting female interest in the field as a major in college.

Of those who select it as their major, those who attend colleges with more female math and science professors have a higher likelihood of graduating with a STEM-related degree, the study also found.

Luby noted another major obstacle that women in engineering face – stereotypes of women in STEM fields. Two “myths” Luby mentioned are “that boys are better at math than girls… or that it’s not as acceptable for a girl to be ‘nerdy’ as it is for a boy.”

Luby used children’s toys as an example of stereotypes. “Dolls, dress-up clothes and play kitchens have historically been considered to be ‘girls’ toys’ while cars, chemistry sets and blocks (all of which deal more with science and engineering) have been considered ‘boys’ toys,’” she added.

“I believe that many girls choose not to pursue STEM fields simply because they do not believe that these fields are open to them as women,” Luby said. “The good news, however, is that this is changing. More women are beginning to
be involved in STEM fields, and organizations like Society of Women Engineers have been created to encourage women in STEM.”

Taylor Provost, News Editor

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