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‘Women Engineers @ the Beach’ Conference Celebrates 10 Years

Published: March 15, 2010

Celebrating 10 successful years in encouraging young girls to consider future careers in engineering and science, CSULB’s College of Engineering (COE) will host the “Women Engineers @ the Beach” conference on Friday, March 19 from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. in the campus’ Vivian Engineering Center (VEC).

More than 380 girls from 19 middle and high schools in California will attend the biannual conference to learn about the variety of disciplines involved in engineering and related sciences.

Lily Gossage, director of engineering recruitment and retention for the COE, 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.

“Ten years is an important milestone for the College of Engineering, the conference and all its partners. We have come so far in the past decade, but there still is a lot to do because the socio-cultural issues that set male and female expectations of career roles still exist,” said Gossage. “These gender roles go against the research that tells us that girls are just as capable as boys at succeeding in math- and science-based careers. This is one reason the opportunities for young girls to explore the mathematical-logical part of cognitive thought are limited.”

The COE’s long-term goal with the conference it to help increase the number of women engineers in both academia and the industry. Currently, women comprise less than 10 percent of the engineering workforce and represent less than 15 percent of the engineering student population.

Gossage also believes it is important to promote the social acceptance of engineering in young girls 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.

From 10 a.m. to 12:10 p.m. at the conference, students will be involved in hands-on activities during 20 45-minute workshops designed to teach them about such areas as measuring concrete strength, robotics designing, structural engineering, hydraulics and the engineering involved in medicine.

To celebrate the 10th anniversary, a cake-cutting ceremony will take place during lunch at 12:30 p.m.

A number of other innovative and fun activities such as building bridges, designing 3D worlds, website design and the “human factors” related to product safety will enrich the students’ critical reasoning skills.

CSULB student projects will also be on display, such as a formula-one racecar, a concrete canoe and a steel bridge.

Also on display will be an off-road vehicle built by CSULB’s chapter of the Society of Automotive Engineers for the Mini Baja Project as well as an entry for the Intercollegiate MicroMouse Competition, which challenges students to build an autonomous robot designed to solve and run a maze in the shortest time.

The students who will attend the conference this year were chosen for performing at grade-level or higher in mathematics. The vast majority (93 percent) will come from the schools’ Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) programs.

The high school girls are enrolled in advanced placement calculus and/or physics at their schools, while the majority of the elementary and middle school girls have scored in the upper 10 percent in the California Standards Test for math and science.

The keynote speaker at the conference will be Jennifer Harris, an industrial engineering transportation manager at United Parcel Service and the Sonora regional governor for the Society of Women Engineers.

Industrial sponsorship at the conference will be provided by the Fluor Corporation and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). The co-sponsor is the Society of Women Engineers.

Last year, the National Society of Women Engineers awarded Women Engineers @ the Beach the prestigious “Kimberly-Clark Outreach Event Award.”

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