Popular Science: GE Girls Stokes Student Interest in STEM

July 24, 2013

Waukesha seventh-grader Laurel Chen says that when she grows up, she wants to be a biomedical engineer. “I like to build things, learn about math and science, and draw,” she said. “As long as it lets my creativity spark, I’ll do it.”

Chen is an example of a budding trend. Women are earning more degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), but the situation far from rosy. “Studies show that while a majority of today’s girls have a clear interest in STEM, they don’t prioritize STEM fields when thinking about future careers,” said Dee Mellor, “executive champion” of GE Girls at GE Women’s Network and chief quality officer at GE Healthcare. “They say that they don’t know a lot about STEM careers and opportunities.”

In June, Mellor’s business held a week-long science camp called GE Girls. The program, conceived by GE Women’s Network and carried out by GE Healthcare and the Milwaukee School of Engineering, gave Chen and 24 other sixth and seventh graders from the Waukesha School District in Wisconsin a taste of what it’s like to be a scientist. The hands-on curriculum focused on medical technologies, physiology, and biomedical engineering. The girls also had the opportunity to learn about X-ray physics and ultrasound technology.

Many of the students were easy converts. “When I grow up, I want to be an engineer like my father,” said sixth-grader Erin Colgrove. “I love to build electronics, work with computers and experiment with science and chemistry. I enjoy baking in the kitchen and seeing chemical reactions take place.” Seventh-grader Mary Hopper wants to become a nuclear physicist. “I love the way the camp is set up so that we get hands-on experience,” she said. “At school the teacher usually does it and we have to stand back. The result is that we don’t get a close look at what is actually happening. Getting to work hands-on with advanced technology is an opportunity I wouldn’t miss for the world.”

GE’s Mellor said that it was “so satisfying to see the girls engage with the program during the week. Maybe they’ll even come to work at GE Healthcare someday,” she said.

GE Girls started in 2011 when GE Women’s Network reached out to GE Aviation and MIT, and asked them to develop a STEM curriculum for the program. It has since grown to include many players. There are six GE businesses and six universities hosting GE Girls this summer, including MIT, Georgia Tech, and Penn State.

If she could, Laurel Chen would attend all of them. “I am looking forward to experimenting with X-ray physics, using ultrasound and being mentored by great role models,” she says. “Not many kids are offered this chance.”

GE businesses participating in GE Girls this summer include GE Aviation, GE Capital, GE Energy Management, GE Global Research, GE Healthcare, GE Power & Water, and GE Transportation. GE Asset Management in Stamford, Conn., also provided support and funding to the local GE Girls program.

imageGE Girls experimented with medical technology in Waukesha. imageGE Girls visited a nursing lab at the Milwaukee School of Engineering.