Wanted: female engineersWoodbury High School welcomed the University of Minnesota’s Society of Women Engineers (SWE) May 2.
By: Amber Kispert-Smith, Woodbury Bulletin
Historically, science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, careers have been a predominantly male-centric field.
However, over the past five to 10 years more and more women are starting to explore STEM careers as an option.
“Today’s society is trying to get more girls involved because they can succeed just as well as everyone else,” Woodbury High School STEM teacher Mark Roesler said. “There’s no barriers there.”
WHS shared that message May 2 when it welcomed the University of Minnesota’s Society of Women Engineers (SWE.)
“Boys continue to go into engineering, but we need to pick it up with our girls,” said WHS assistant principal Sarah Sorenson-Wagner, who organized the event. “And, when they actually see real girls traveling the path, it’s less scary. It’s less uncertain.”
During the event, seven University of Minnesota students, currently majoring in engineering, spoke about their majors, their classes, possible career options and what they enjoy about engineering.
“It was amazing to see these girls talking to the girls,” Sorenson-Wagner said. “That’s really where it needs to start because we have such smart, talented, beautiful girls here and this helps bring our girls to the next step.”
WHS sophomore Jenna Fleming said she decided to attend the SWE presentation because she is looking at what options are out there for her once she reaches college.
“I don’t really know what I want to do so I wanted to attend just to get a different take on something,” she said. “I’m kind of interested in engineering, but I’m not quite sure.”
Fleming said the best advice SWE gave her was to keep her options open.
“I really took away that I shouldn’t limit myself and that I should look at different options,” she said. “I might find something that will surprise me.”
Girls in engineering
At the University of Minnesota, the percentage of women in engineering is around 30 percent, SWE co-president, and 2006 WHS graduate, Laura Lennertson said.
Lennertson, a chemical engineering major, said engineering was always the path for her.
“I was one of the lucky ones that knew right away what I wanted to do,” she said. “ I had always been curious about what things were made of and the industry behind them.”
However, not all girls will find themselves in the same boat as Lennertson because not many are familiar with the option of engineering, Lennertson said.
“Engineering is a little non-traditional for girls and for some people that can be intimidating,” she said. “Plus there’s not a lot of information out there about engineering so there’s a lot more emphasis put on outreach now.”
Sorenson-Wagner said the lack of girls in engineering could possibly be attributed to how the field is marketed.
For example, many of the values associated with engineering, such as teamwork, problem solving and making the world better, are traditional female values, Sorenson-Wagner said, though it’s not marketed that way.
“Engineering is a lot of things a traditional woman would value, but it needs to be presented that way and right now it’s being presented that you have to be really good at math and you have to be really good at science —that’s not engineering,” Sorenson-Wagner said. “Engineering is problem solving and working together to fix something and that’s exactly what women do.
“The more that message is conveyed, the more interested women will become.”
Attracting girls to engineering
Sorenson-Wagner said attracting girls to the field of engineering begins in high school by bringing girls together who have the same interests.
Sorenson-Wagner said it is important to bring girls together since female engineers are such a small population.
“If you’re working through everything together as a cohort there is just that camaraderie,” she said.
At WHS, the Project Lead the Way principles of engineering course is trying to attract more girls to class by developing more unisex projects, Roesler said.
“We’re trying to have design projects that are more unisex and not just designing tools or motorcycles,” he said. “Once you get the girls in the classroom, it’s just hanging out and having fun — it’s not a competition.”
WHS principal Linda Plante said it’s important to note that engineers, and female engineers, have doors wide open for them.
“Sitting before you are very employable people,” she said during the SWE event. “The job market is bad but not for any of these people.”
Sorenson-Wagner said she hopes that the SWE event becomes an annual event.
“I think back to when I was in high school and I loved hearing about what college was like,” she said.