Building on its success in attracting young women to engineering, California State University, Long Beach's (CSULB) College of Engineering hosted its eighth annual engineering education conference, "Women Engineers @ the Beach," last week in the campus' Vivian Engineering Center (VEC).
The more than 200 elementary and middle school girls in attendance learned about the variety of disciplines involved in engineering and related sciences. The program's long-term goal is to help increase the number of women in both academia and industry. Currently, women comprise less than 10 percent of the engineering workforce and represent less than 15 percent of the engineering student population.
Lily Gossage, director of engineering recruitment and retention for the College of Engineering, has organized "Women Engineers @ the Beach" since 2001. She believes that aside from introducing young girls to engineering, the event also focuses on encouraging school counselors and teachers to promote engineering at their school sites.
"While there is much research that tells us that girls are just as capable as boys at succeeding in math- and science-based careers, opportunities for young girls to explore the mathematical-logical part of cognitive thought are limited," said Gossage. "Socio-cultural issues and male and female expectations of career roles are barriers that often delay the discovery of the career until much later."
Gossage also believes it is important to promote the social acceptance of young girls beginning early during the formative years when there is plenty of time for academic preparation. "It is important for parents, teachers and counselors to enforce the belief that engineering is also a woman's world," she said.
At the conference, students were involved in hands-on activities in a variety of 45-minute workshops designed to teach them about engineering, engineering technology, computer science and construction engineering.
A number of fun activities such as building straw towers, making slime, launching toy rockets and estimating the number of items in a jar challenged the students' critical reasoning skills. CSULB student projects also were on display. The workshops included the basics of flight, bridge building, concrete strength, controls, hydraulics, machine shop/tooling, MATLab and SolidWorks.
Participating schools included Caldwell Elementary School, Chavez Elementary School, De Anza Jr. High School, Enrique Camarena Jr. High School, Griffiths Middle School, Hill Classical Middle School, Lakeside Middle School, Oxford Academy and William Moreno Jr. High School.
The students who attended the conference this year were chosen for performing at grade-level or higher in mathematics. A large number of the students also came from the schools' Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) programs.
Industrial sponsorship at the conference was provided by Elsevier and IEEE National. The CSULB local chapter of Society of Women Engineers is also a sponsoring partner.
The event's keynote speaker was Laurel Gutierrez, an aerospace systems engineer at the Raytheon Corporation with more than 23 years of experience in system architecture and engineering, design,development, and operations of national and commercial space ground and airborne systems.
Like Gossage, Pannada Marayong, a faculty adviser from the Society of Women Engineers, also believes that programs like "Women Engineers @ The Beach" are essential in attracting young women to engineering who may otherwise feel the industry is not suited for them. She also recognizes the importance of such programs in enabling girls to develop supportive relationships with working women engineers.
"It is immensely important for universities to provide outreach opportunities to attract more women into science and engineering," said Marayong. "This should start as early as the middle school and continue all the way through high school. This is when kids start to explore their interests and their career paths. Unfortunately, many girls are discouraged about engineering because they perceive it as being 'too technical' and 'unexciting.'"
-- Paul Browning
Reprinted From This Week @ The Beach Week of November 10, 2008