Education News

Middle School Girls Get Closer Look At Engineering

In the United States, about 14 percent of engineers are women, even though women make up half of the workforce. One company is trying to help close that gap and showed young girls what engineering is all about.

At an Exxon office in north Houston middle school girls are working on a design competition: who can make the best oil rig platform.

Their tools are scissors tape and newspapers.

Their platforms have to support weight. But first the structure has to stand up.

“It’s standing. Ok it was.”

“I think I’m going to make another X so this one can keep it like that.”

The girls from Yes Prep North Forest charter school got to be engineers for a day at Exxon.

Trinity Moore says it changed her goals.

“At first I wanted to be a teacher but now I want to be agriculture engineering, I want to build buildings. It’s fun and we had a lot of fun here.”

Some of the students had never met an engineer before, like Geetha Mahadevan.

She’s an upstream engineer at Exxon and credits her career choice to some early exposure.

“I think it was getting the mechanical engineering magazines that my dad would subscribe to as a kid. And I would see them in the mail and I was in elementary school and I would think wow what are these structures, pumps and turbines. And then I started getting interested in hydroelectric plants and power plants. And that’s where the interest sparked, it sparked with my father.”

Yes Prep girlsWhen Mahadaven studied engineering in college women made up about 8 percent of her class.

Andress St. Rose is a researcher with the American Association of University Women.  She says culture has a lot to do with why there are so few women in science.

“The cultural stereotype in the U.S. is that boys are better at math and science than girls are. Girls are better you know non science and math fields, so arts, humanities, reading.”

The bad news is that kids pick up on that bias at an early age.

“Research shows that as early as elementary school kids are aware of these stereotypes and it influences what subjects they say boys should study and girls should study, the kinds of activities they might participate in and so the aspirations that they might hold for themselves in the future.”

But the good news St. Rose says is that we have the power to change those stereotypes.

From the KUHF Education Desk, I’m Laura Isensee.


Laura Isensee

Laura Isensee

Education Reporter

Laura Isensee covers education for Houston Public Media, including K-12 and higher education. Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Miami Herald and contributed to South Florida’s NPR affiliate. Her work has also appeared in The Dallas Morning News, Reuters and Clarín in Argentina. Laura has won awards for...

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