Female engineers plow way for future generations
Kimberley Owen said that while she loved chemistry in high school, she and her best friend were typically the only females in their math and science classes.
“Everyone else was a guy,” she said. “There was still that stigma. You didn’t want to be that weird kid in class with just guys.”
Owen, now a junior majoring in chemical engineering at Clemson University, is working to crush that stigma for future generations.
“Girl Scouts Day” will bring students, faculty and professionals together at Clemson House on Saturday (Feb. 15) to introduce girls to the possibilities they could unlock by focusing on the collection of disciplines known as STEM– science, technology, engineering and math.
The program is aimed keeping girls interested in those fields and chipping away at some troubling statistics.
Women represent 24 percent of the STEM workforce, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. The number raises concerns that women are falling behind in some of the nation’s fastest-growing and highest-paying jobs.
Most of the 100 scouts expected to attend the Clemson program are in middle school, a time when many girls begin to lose interest in engineering and science.
But there are more to those studies than geeky glasses and pocket protectors, said women involved in the program.
“There are a lot of cool things you can do with it,” said Owen, who is from Knoxville, Tenn. “I think it’s important to show that early on.”
The scouts will test the strength of cookie-box bridges, use a Lego Mindstorms kit to explore robotics and learn how a Roomba floor-vacuum robot “thinks.”
The program will also introduce the Girl Scouts to some positive female role models, said Lynn Arve, program services director for Girl Scouts of South Carolina– Mountains to Midlands.
“We hope to help boost the numbers down the line so that we have more girls involved in STEM careers–more engineers, more scientists and all those things in between,” she said.
The theme is “at the heart of our community” to underscore how engineering and science touches everyday life from food, medicine and transportation to items often used by girls, such as cosmetics, said Serita Acker, director of Clemson’s Women in Science and Engineering (WISE).
“You give girls an opportunity to be excited about things going on in the world that will help us be on the cutting edge of new technologies and discoveries to make our world a better place,” she said.
“You plant a seed so they maybe look at these careers in the future.”
Lockheed Martin, a partner in Girl Scouts Day, focuses on STEM in its education outreach activity, said Leslie Farmer, a spokeswoman in the Greenville office.
“We know firsthand the importance of educating our young people in math and science,” she said. “Our future success — and our nation’s technological advantage — depend on a constant supply of highly trained, highly capable technical talent.”
Girl Scouts Day is one of several programs organized by WISE to support females in engineering and science. The group also puts together recruitment days for high school juniors and seniors and a summer camp for middle school students.
Research shows that girls are more likely to pursue STEM occupations if they see and spend time with women who have been successful in those fields.
Stephanie Phillips, a junior majoring in civil engineering, said that while she remembers being one of two girls in her high school STEM classes, she found that she enjoyed physics and AutoCad, software used for designing and drafting.
Phillips, of Anderson, now is a counselor in a WISE summer camp and plans on working with scouts on Saturday to show them what’s possible.
“Girls can do it,” she said. “It’s not just for guys.”