Undergraduate Women Still Minority Among Engineers
A project on Kickstarter which received full funding in just five days marks the beginning of Debbie Sterling’s journey to make engineering based toys for girls.
“These toys develop spatial skills and get kids interested in engineering and science,” Debbie said in a video posted at Upworthy.
She recalled her time as a child not enjoying K’nex or other building-based toys because the only changes the manufacturers made between girl and boy versions was the color. Hers were pink.
University of Santa Clara senior Rachel Reid experienced a similar problem when she was growing up. Now an engineering major, she didn’t actually decide to pursue mechanical engineering until high school, when she realized she was talented in physics.
“I definitely wanted to play with K'nex and Hot Wheels, but those were boyish,” Reid told Campus Progress. “Having a more girly toy would be really cool so it would be acceptable to play with. I do think there needs to be more options with toys rather than just dolls, because I found them boring.”
Many women in her field are experiencing the same kind of isolation as Sterling does today. The American Society for Engineering Education cited 18.4 percent of undergraduates who earned their degree in engineering were women in 2011, up from just 0.3 percent in 2010.
When Reid first started taking engineering classes, she said she remembered a level of difficulty on group projects when men in her classes didn’t feel she was a force to compete with. Later, though, she began to see a change.
“I have been lucky enough to meet a lot a great guys who know that I am a capable engineer,” Reid says. “Basically, in order to not get viewed as less intelligent, you have to work hard to prove yourself. I also think dishing back to the guys helps. Let them know that you won't take their crap.”
Thanks to women like Sterling who are working towards a brighter future for women engineers, little girl who have a knack for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) will be able to exercise those skills earlier by playing with toys marketed more inclusively.
Reid said she sees late introduction to engineering as only a minor setback, recognizing that the diversity efforts of some job recruiters could help her propel herself into the job market.
“The advantage is that companies and recruiters value female engineers when they try to make the workplace diverse,” Reid told Campus Progress. “This is good because hopefully I will be able to get a job easier—but I also want to make sure I am being hired because I am qualified, not because I am a girl.”
Aditi Pai is a reporter for Campus Progress.