By Linda Kekelis, Family Engagement Advisor
Get ready. Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day will be hosted February 20, 2020 during Engineers Week. Girls want to make the world a better place. Girl Day shows them how engineers are doing just that and how they can have a place in engineering a better world. As you plan your Girl Day, here are five ideas to make it the start of something special with long-term impact.
#1 Make the most impact by reaching out to girls with promise and potential. Imagine you were a young girl who didn’t personally know an engineer. Would you know the career options in engineering or understand how to chart your path from middle school to an engineering major? Girl Day can fill in those gaps for girls with promise.
How can you leverage your Girl Day and make a real difference in the future of girls? Look for partners to help you recruit girls who might be interested in engineering, if given the chance. Reach out to groups like Boys and Girls Clubs and the YMCA who support youth in low-income and under-resourced communities, to schools that serve girls who are first generation on a college track, and to programs like National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), and American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) with outreach to girls who are underrepresented in engineering. Only 20% of all engineering bachelor’s degree holders are women; less than 4% of engineering bachelor’s degrees are awarded to African American, Hispanic, and Native American women combined. We can work together to change the future of engineering and girls. With your support, girls from diverse backgrounds just might see a bright future tackling local and global challenges.
#2 Step up and offer to be an informal mentor for girls. It’s not always what you know, but who you know that matters in your life’s journey. Julia Freeland Fisher provides a thoughtful reflection on the inequities in access to networks that help build social capital. Youth from wealthy families have greater access to enrichment activities like afterschool programs, tutoring, and sports that increase their access to informal mentors. These mentors offer academic and career guidance and open doors with introductions to influential persons in their networks.
You can help bridge the gap in youth’s access to networks which are “powerful levers for equity and opportunity.” Amp up the power of your Girl Day by doing more than exposing girls to engineering activities. Send girls off with your business card and let girls know that you will be available to them after Girl Day. As an informal mentor, you can provide advice on course work, offer words of encouragement, or make an introduction for an internship. You have the power of your networks to expand the networks of girls.
#3 Introduce a girl and her family to engineering. When you ask a girl about the role models in her life, she is likely to answer that it’s her parents. Unfortunately, there is a disconnect between girls’ desires and their parents’ perceptions. Girls are looking to their parents for guidance about the future. Parents believe they don’t have the expertise. You might not be able to include parents in your Girl Day activities, but you can find ways to involve and support families.
Film your Girl Day and share highlights of activities with parents. Seeing what you hosted for their daughters can dispel stereotypes and show parents how the work and lifestyle of an engineer can be compatible with their daughters’ interests and talents. Provide resources for girls to bring home and share with their parents. Parents don’t need to be an engineer to be a champion for engineering. Share the message that it’s their encouragement that matters. Encouragement comes in many forms like asking questions, inviting their daughter to show them what they’re learning, or looking for books and online videos about engineering. Check out the Planning Guide for Parents by DiscoverE for hands-on activities and resources to spark a budding interest in engineering. For more ideas to empower parents, check out my blog Introduce a Girl (and Her Family) to Engineering.
#4 Connect girls to programs in the community and online. Once you’ve created a spark with Girl Day, what’s next? One-off experiences aren’t likely to sustain girls’ interest in engineering, but there are lots of engineering programs in which girls can further their interests in engineering. You can help by being intentional and stitching together connections between Girl Day and these opportunities.
You can create a resource with summer camps, afterschool programs, and weekend workshops. SWENext supports girls who are 13 years and older with programs that build leadership and confidence. Technovation Girls, Black Girls Code, Girls Who Code, and Girl Scouts sponsor programs that connect girls to technology and engineering along with role models. Direct girls to EngineerGirl and The Connectory where they can find opportunities in their community.
#5 Introduce role models. There’s been lots of study on why females don’t pursue engineering. Despite the Odds from DiscoverE and Concord Evaluation Group studied what motivates young women to pursue and persist in engineering education and careers. Their findings include “Giving girls the opportunity to do meaningful engineering activities — with role models — works. It builds their interest, confidence and understanding of engineering.”
Be sure to offer training and support for role models. DiscoverE has a robust set of resources to prepare role models that include research-based ideas on messaging engineering. Techbridge Girls has best practices and videos of role models in action. Introduce girls and their parents to resources where they can find role models 365 days a year. Some of my favorites include EngineerGirl, FabFems, SciGirls, and AAAS IF/THEN® Ambassadors.
I am chairperson of the steering committee for the National Academy of Engineering’s EngineerGirl and an advisor on The Family Engagement Project with STEM Next Opportunity Fund. I look forward to learning about your Girl Day.
Follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/LindaKekelis