Science Careers Seek Young Women

America is in desperate need of scientists and engineers and it is no secret that women are under-represented in both of these fields. Studies indicate that girls begin to lose interest in science and math during the middle school years because this age group is susceptible to strong societal messages that suggest math, engineering and science careers are for men. To counteract this perception, every year women scientists and engineers at Argonne National Lab host Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day to provide strong role models and help encourage young girls to pursue their interests and realize their full potential.

"Girls are just as good at math and science, but their confidence tends to erode, which is why having access to successful female role models is so important," said Debby E.R. Quock, an Argonne computer scientist and one of the event's founders. "Girls should be free to explore their interests."

During the one-day program, 6th-, 7th- and 8th-grade girls interested in math, science, and engineering spend the day with a mentor, tour the laboratory, participate in hands-on activities, and attend interactive presentations about engineering careers.

"This event is a great opportunity to inspire our next generation of scientists and engineers," said Erika Benda, chairperson of the event and a mechanical engineer at Argonne. "[It] is designed to spark their curiosity and encourage girls to pursue their interests in [these careers]."

The girls also attend a lunch with some of Argonne's leading experts where they have the opportunity to ask female scientists how they decided on their career path, their educational choices, and what their current work entails.

young female scientistPhoto Credit - Erika Benda

A participant at the 2010 Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day at Argonne National Laboratory.

"This event was designed for girls to see first-hand all of the cool and interesting applications of science and engineering and imagine themselves doing this kind of work in the future, while making new friends with similar interests."

The event, which began nine years ago with only 15 participants, has grown by leaps and bounds. "Every year we are faced with limited capacity because we want to pair no more than two girls to one female mentor," explained Quock. There were so many applicants this year that the program coordinators chose to offer an additional session rather than turn interested applicants away. "We wanted to reach as many girls as we could and keep them interested and engaged in science and engineering," said Benda.

The first session was held on February 18 and offered 52 interested middle school-aged girls the opportunity to explore career paths in science and engineering. The second program, took place on Saturday, February 27, 2010.

Attending the first event, Allison Erdman a 12-year-old sixth-grader from Eisenhower Junior High School said "I like the thought of girls being engineers." "I don't think it's weird at all." Erdmann is interested in pursuing a career in mechanical engineering like her father.

The event has also influenced the career and education decisions of many of its past participants. Kaylee Jamison a former participant credits the program with reaffirming her interest in science and is now pursuing a bachelor's degree in biochemistry at the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis.

engineeringPhoto Credit - Erika Benda

An engineering day participant holds up a superball she made at the polymer exhibit.

"The sheer number of applicants has been a breakthrough with the lab," said Benda. "We hope the response will help us recruit more Argonne volunteers and allow us to leverage the lab to develop programs that best meet the girls' needs at future events." She continues, "This event could not take place without the combined lab-wide effort." "A lot of good has come out of the program, and we hope to continue encouraging young women to pursue all of the different opportunities that are available to them," concluded Quock.

Argonne National Laboratory is committed to encouraging and developing the scientific and engineering aspirations of girls of all ages. The lab is planning the annual Science Careers in Search of Woman on April 22, 2010. This conference engages high school-aged women and encourages them to consider careers in science and technology by allowing them to explore career opportunities learn about educational requirements, and employment trends.

"For the past 21 years we have been working to inspire young women to become our next generation of scientists and engineers," said Harold Myron, director of Argonne's Division of Educational Programs.

Sponsorship for the event is provided by all of Argonne's research areas in conjunction with Argonne's Division of Educational Programs and the Women in Science and Technology program.

Administered by the Department of Energy Office of Science, Argonne National Laboratory conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America's scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future.

This article was written by Stacy W. Kish