Guiding girls to explore engineering

ASU education outreach program seeks to discover ways to inspire more females to help boost nation’s technological expertise

What will spark girls’ interest in engineering careers? An ASU education specialist will look for answers in a multi-year study focusing on 60 girls in several middle schools in the greater Phoenix area.

Girls in Engineering: Shaping the Future is scheduled to begin this upcoming school year with selected groups of sixth-grade girls in the Kyrene School District. The study will follow their progress through their middle school and high school years as they participate in hands-on learning experiences designed to encourage them to explore the world of engineering.

The Kyrene School District includes parts of Chandler, Guadalupe, Tempe, Phoenix and the Gila River Indian Community.

The project is led by Tirupalavanam Ganesh, an assistant professor of engineering education in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

Its start-up funding of $20,000 is being provided by the Engineering Information Foundation, a national organization that works to improve engineering information and education around the world and supports efforts to diversify the engineering workforce by promoting recruitment of women into the profession.

“We believe that having more women working in engineering fields is paramount in solving the world’s problems,” said Ruth Miller, executive director of the Engineering Information Foundation. “We hope this project inspires many of these girls to consider going to engineering school and on to careers in engineering.”

The endeavor will benefit from work Ganesh has done for several years with a National Science Foundation-funded project, Learning through Engineering Design and Practice. It’s part of the NSF’s Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers program. Studies and activities developed for those efforts will be incorporated into the Girls in Engineering project.

Studies show that women are not being attracted to the engineering field in numbers sufficient to help meet the growing demand by industry for engineering expertise in the 21st century.
Ganesh cites data from the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics reporting that fewer than 18 percent of students enrolled in undergraduate college and university engineering programs are female – as of 2008, the most recent year for which complete data is available.

“It’s important to have a mix of our nation’s citizenry be represented in science and engineering enterprises,” he said. “We don’t want females to simply be consumers of technology. We want them to be involved in shaping, designing and building new technologies.”

The key, Ganesh says, will be communicating messages about the ways engineering is relevant to society’s progress.

“We need students to see engineering as something that is fulfilling and enjoyable and valuable to the world, not something that is only a job to earn money,” he says. He adds that it's critical to attract students to the field while they’re young.

“It’s important that we foster a sense of curiosity, a sense of excitement about learning to be inventive,” he says. “I’m passionate about learning how we can do this more effectively.”

For more information, visit Girls in Engineering: Shaping the Future.