Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Speaking to the Girls

So I am here in Alabama with the Women's Initiative program this week, and I am having a great time. The people here warm my heart - the south has a special place there already, and the kindness and laid-back attitude of everyone here just cement it there. Although it's cold, dangit, no respite from the chilly NorthEast.

My partner and I give a presentations to eight schools in five days - we've been to four so far. We work in 50-minute intervals through the day, the standard school period. We start out by explaining what engineering is, and what the different kinds are. We show lots of pictures of our lives to try and dispel some myths - that only no girls are engineers, that everybody's a nerd, that you have to sit in front of a computer all day, or that it's lonely. We show some cool videos of things engineers do, and highlight a few women in engineering who have made significant achievements. Then, pretty much, they are tuning out.

So we do an activity - we pass out spaghetti and jumbo marshmallows, and hold a competition to see which team can build the tallest tower that holds the most weight. It seems silly, but the students love it. And it really does illustrate how engineers work - you have a problem statement, limited resources and time, a group to work with, you've got to make educated decisions, and there's a reckoning at the end. It's perfect! And a hoot to watch from my end.

So really there's only one thing that bothers me so far. I knew we'd be speaking to highschool students, and yes that's true. But it turns out I missed the simple fact we are speaking only to girls - females only. I guess I just assumed we'd be speaking to the whole class and emphasizing the female angle. But, nope.

At first I just thought, whoops, shouldn't have missed that obvious point. But now at a couple of schools, wires have gotten crossed and highschool guys end up being sent over to our presentation. It irritates me that we have to turn them away - I see no reason why they can't stay. In fact, I'm not sure why the program was set up this way. Of course it's good to talk to high school girls about engineering, that's why I volunteered. But I'm not sure we should be purposely excluding the boys - it's not like we are saying anything girl-classified, for crying out loud. 

And if it's a problem with supplies, I don't buy that. The expensive part is my partner and I - the plane tickets, rental car, hotel stay for a week. The spaghetti and marhsmallows do not the budget break, my friend.

So I'm thinking I will put in a suggestion to include all the kids in the class when we report back at debriefing at the end of this program.

What do you think - is it a good idea to present about engineering to girls exclusively? And, while I'm on it, what do you think is the most important thing for me to tell them in our presentation?


  1. Well first of all, let them know there's the occasional guy who shows up in class... If "only girls are engineers..." then my university missed the memo on that one!

  2. Ah, yes. We'll make a note of that...

    Fixed the typo.