California State University, Long Beach
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Women Engineers @ The Beach Looks To Encourage Young Girls

Published: October 1, 2013

Marking 12 years delivering encouragement to young girls to consider careers in engineering, CSULB’s College of Engineering once again hosts Women Engineers @ the Beach on Friday, Oct. 4.

With women comprising less than 10 percent of the engineering workforce and less than 20 percent of the undergraduate engineering student population, the program’s long-term goal is to increase the number of women engineers in both academia and industry.

About 200 young women from seven middle and high schools have been selected to attend the conference to learn about the variety of disciplines involved in engineering and related sciences. The program recruits on the basis of math skills; those whose math trajectory shows that they would be able to finish calculus by their senior year are identified by their principals and counselors for participation.

Lily Gossage, engineering educational research associate for the College of Engineering, along with a team of dedicated faculty and student leaders from the Society of Women Engineers, has organized the daylong program since 2001.

Women Engineers @ the Beach was developed to inspire young girls to consider careers in engineering, technology and computer science, according to Gossage.

“This program is the flagship event,” she said. “One of several high-impact women-in-engineering outreach and recruitment efforts offered by the College of Engineering.

“We have come so far since the beginning, but there is still a lot to do. Socio-cultural stereotypes (that define male and female expectations of career roles) and climate issues—both educational and industry settings—continue to be the greatest barriers to women’s success in engineering,” she said. “The stereotype that women are less mathematically skilled or lack the capacity for logic and reasoning contradicts the research that tells us that girls are just as capable as boys at succeeding in math- and science-based careers. In fact, the heartier engineering graduates—entering with the higher SAT-Math scores and graduating with higher GPAs—are women engineering students. In academic performance, they outrank their male peers in the discipline and their female peers outside of the discipline. This is a big reason why opportunities for young girls to explore the mathematical-logical part of cognitive thought have generally been limited.”

Featuring 10 hands-on engineering and science activities geared toward middle- and high-school-level learning, the program emphasizes engineering as a ubiquitous part of daily life. Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering’s Panadda Marayong, faculty advisor for the Society of Women Engineers, said that, “It shows students that even math can become more exciting. We’ve received positive feedback from teachers and parents. It has helped our engineering faculty improve the delivery of subjects as rigorous as engineering to younger and younger students.”

The program is free and an opportunity for school districts all over Southern California to get involved in more of these types of activities.

“Undoubtedly, this will enrich what happens in the classroom with the new Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards,” said Gossage.

While there have been many examples of students attending the event going on to enroll at CSULB, Women Engineers is not meant to be only a recruitment tool.

“We really consider this a community service, and the faculty who are involved have become advocates of women’s success,” said Psychology’s Kim Vu, faculty advisor for CSULB’s Human Factors and Ergonomics Society and a co-sponsor of the program. “Regardless of which university is chosen, we are always happy when young women decide they want to become engineers or select any non-traditional career role.”

Gossage also pointed out that, Women Engineers @ the Beach is the longest-running such program in the nation. Funding for this year’s program came from the California Community College Chancellor’s Office Career Technical Education Pathways.

For the parents who are beginning to understand that it is important to offer their daughters career options, some may still have the stereotype that women do not become engineers simply because there are few women engineers. Gossage explains that this halo effect occurs when people interpret behaviors based on their preconceptions.

“They don’t see women engineers and so they believe that women cannot become engineers,” she said. “To reverse this, it is critical to promote the social acceptance of engineering in young girls during the earlier years starting in elementary school 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.”

–Richard Manly