JBU engineering students rally to educate young girls

A day consisting of spaghetti towers, water bottle rockets and remote-controlled Lego cars helped educate young girls about careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

A part of National Engineers Week, Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day (IGED) is a nation-wide initiative to empower girls to enter traditionally male-dominated fields. For the second consecutive year, IGED came to John Brown University.

According to the United States Department of Commerce, “Women filled 47 percent of all U.S. jobs in 2015 but held only 24 percent of STEM jobs.” Additionally, women constitute slightly over half of college educated workers but make up a mere 25 percent of college educated STEM workers. While women hold almost as many undergraduate degrees as men, only 30 percent are STEM degree holders.

The JBU engineering department and engineering students recognize the need for more female voices in fields like engineering.

In an effort to increase women in STEM fields at JBU, the university hosted approximately 120 third to fifth grade girls from Siloam Springs, Arkansas, Gentry, Arkansas, Watts, Oklahoma and Colcord, Oklahoma. on Saturday Feb. 24. JBU students and volunteers lead the girls in various activities and lectures with the purpose of introducing them to potential careers in STEM.

Lauren Wilson, junior engineering major, said, “Research shows that around fourth grade is the time when interest in STEM activities goes down in girls. That’s the time when you see the big shift in having equal numbers and almost entirely guys in your STEM activities. [IGED] is targeted at girls who are at the age where they lose interest and showing them ‘hey, if this is something you are interested in and that you like, you can do it, and pursue that and see how to make an impact in that field.”

Junior engineering major Katelyn Patterson, a volunteer at the event, said she likes “to see girls get an opportunity to be exposed to engineering that I did not have. I did not know what engineering was until I got to college.”

Bailey Church, a fourth-grade participant in JBU’s IGED, said, before coming to IGED, she had never thought about becoming an engineer. “It makes me feel a lot happier and a lot more confident in myself,” Church said, regarding being told that she has potential in the fields of math and science, something educators in her school have not told her.

When asked what her dream job was, Church said, “Well, first I thought about cooking, then I thought about dancing, then archaeology. But now, I want to be an engineer.”

Fourth grade student Brylee Engle said that seeing girls who are older than her in engineering made her want to go into the field.

Wilson said one way that society can help in encouraging girls to go into STEM fields is by “letting people know that something is hard at first does not mean you can’t be good at it and you won’t be good at it. A lot of the reason why girls lose interest in STEM is because girls brains develop so that they are better at math and science later than guys. The ways that [boys’] brains work is that they understand it at a younger age. A lot of times that results in girls saying ‘Well, guys get it. I don’t. I probably shouldn’t be here.’ Letting girls know that it’s hard at first but if it is something [they] are interested in, you can get good at it.”

Junior engineering major Abby Acker said, “I’m not under the impression that all of these girls will be, or even should be, engineers when they grow up. I do hope that those of them who have the aptitude and passions necessary for engineering will be more likely to think that they can be engineers and that engineering is fun.”

Patterson agreed and said her hope for the girls moving forward is, “I hope they see that engineering is cool and it’s fun and it’s not a boring thing that only boys do. I don’t want them to all be engineers, I don’t think they all need to be engineers. But, I want them to be open to [the possibility] that this is something they can do and can be good at.”