Girls Just Wanna Engineer

Picture courtesy of Trident Robotics

Picture courtesy of Trident Robotics

Anushka Agashe, Staff Writer

Cyndi Lauper said it best: girls just wanna have fun. Recently, Trident Robotics hosted a program to foster that same kind of passion for engineering, in an effort to encourage young girls to pursue careers in STEM.

First, what even is STEM? STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. It was created to address a shortage of skilled workers in hi-tech career fields. Now, STEM is taught in a holistic curriculum to prepare students for the real world as well as present fun and engaging topics for school-aged children. However, the aforementioned shortage of skilled workers is even more pronounced when examining the number of female workers in hi-tech career fields.

As the world becomes more technologized, the gap between the number of male and female STEM students only widens. Though it varies across discipline and country, only about 15-25% of STEM workers are women. Considering women make up half the world’s population, these statistics are disheartening, frightening at best. Since STEM jobs tend to be higher paid, a lack of women in the field only serves to exacerbate the gender wage gap, especially considering that the amount of STEM careers is expected to rise. Furthermore, young girls lack female role models to look up to in STEM, which further encumbers their pursuit of the field.

It’s undeniable that women join STEM fields at much lower rates than men. However, trying to figure out why presents room for debate. The most widely accepted theory is that gender disparities begin at a young age, causing gaps in science achievement as early as kindergarten.

For instance, parents and teachers have shown heightened encouragement towards boys in math compared to girls. A study also shows that mothers tend to mention numbers and quantities to their toddler sons two to three times more than daughters of the same age. When you add in the blatant gendering of toys related to building, spatial reasoning, etc., it’s not difficult to see how girls are led to believe they’re less capable of STEM-related activities.

This belief later manifests itself through a difference in perceived competence, when there’s no real difference in actual ability. Starting in third grade, boys start to rate their own competence higher than girls do, even though no real distinction has been found. This belief results in girls veering towards careers that they feel they are more capable of, as evidenced by the fact that women surpass men in earning bachelor’s and advanced degrees, yet the amount of women getting degrees in computer science is actually declining.

Trident Robotics’ most recent event, Girls Just Wanna Engineer, was created in order to begin the process of bridging the gender gap apparent in STEM fields. The goal was to show the girls at the event that they are capable of engineering, something they likely hadn’t had any exposure to. To do this, the participants were given the opportunity to solder a circuit, create a program, and put together a basic machine. These activities were created to give the girls an introduction to the three main subteams of Trident Robotics: mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and programming. It was emphasized to the volunteers of the event that they shouldn’t be doing the work for the girls who attended; instead, they should let the participants figure it out for themselves. As member Megan Garward claims, the purpose was for the girls to “walk away and feel like they accomplished something and have something to show for it.”

In addition to Gaward, I discussed the event with Captain Janhvi Dubey; both girls have been interested in STEM from a young age, but expressed disappointment in the fact that a scant sixth of the robotics team is female. When asked why they believe so few girls join STEM overall and specifically robotics, Dubey said, “I think that one of the main reasons why so few girls join STEM is because they are afraid…I think that there are a lot of girls at Warren who would love to join robotics but are hindered by the ‘intimidating’ atmosphere.” She then commented on the fact that Gurnee and the surrounding areas offer few opportunities for kids to actually get hands-on experience with engineering concepts. 

The hope of Girls Just Wanna Engineer is that this experience will give girls the confidence to pursue STEM through their life, bridging the gender gap that persisted through previous generations. Though this event is focused in Gurnee and the surrounding area, it is efforts like these that move society as a whole towards equity in STEM fields. We cannot  reach our maximum productivity until skills and intelligence are utilized regardless of gender, and Girls Just Wanna Engineer takes a pivotal step toward making this a reality.