Women in sciences – or the lack thereof – is a topic that draws constant controversy. No matter what’s causing such a low number of women to enter science-related fields, the numbers speak for themselves: women make up 46.5 percent of the U.S. workforce, but hold only 25 percent of math and computer science jobs, and 11 percent of engineering jobs.
One solution for changing this ratio sounds simple, but is often overlooked: Make more of an effort to interest girls in hard sciences from an early age. Which was precisely the goal of the inaugural GE Girls at MIT Summer Education workshop, held this July.
The week-long program offered 25 middle-school girls a fun and exciting window into the STEM sciences (science, technology, engineering, and math), as part of a renewed GE commitment to increasing the number of women in technology leadership roles. The students were selected from a pool of sixth-graders from three public schools in Lynn, Massachusetts, one of GE’s original locations.
Each student had access to a fun and thrilling curriculum, which was co-developed by GE and MIT. Classes were based around themes like construction, programming, electronics, aviation and chemistry. Workshops included a whirlwind of hands-on activities: programming their own computer games and LEGO robots, building and launching rockets, understanding airplane flight, developing a chemical recipe for lip gloss, creating flashlights, and even building ice cream makers. The girls were bused daily from GE’s Lynn location to MIT’s campus, and the week included tours and guest speakers. Meanwhile, the instructors included MIT professors, graduate students, and volunteers from the GE Women’s Network.
Joanne Kugler, leader of the GE’s Women and Technology Initiative, said of the program: “Our vision is to excite young girls around STEM and retain their interest as they head into high school, college and eventually the workforce (and maybe they’ll even work at GE). Knowing women will be over half of the future workforce, and that the U.S. must continue to grow and advance technology, this is a long term commitment.”
Next year, Kugler says the program will expand to two more GE locations and corresponding universities – specifically, GE’s Schenectady plant with a local New York university, and the Waukesha plant with a local Wisconsin university. In 2013, that expansion will continue even more. And by 2020, well, perhaps that ratio may be skewing in a different direction.