Design Squad Makes Engineering Fun

For some time, I’ve been talking about how to make science and technology curricula female-friendly. One important way is to focus upfront on how science and technology can be applied.

Photo by Ken Maschke

Photo: Ken Maschke

PBS’ Design Squad does just that. Overall, this television program does a good job of presenting gender-balanced, racially diverse kids participating in real life design challenges and competitions, with the winner getting a college scholarship. The show’s website offers educators guidance on using Design Squad materials in the classroom.

Joanna Trombley is Chair of the West Chester (PA) Area School District Technology and Engineering Education Department.  She used Design Squad’s dance pad activity for a sixth grade class project on electronics. According to Joanne, “These activities let you take the key electricity/electronic concepts and apply them to solve problems.” Of course, anything related to dance, in particular, will likely appeal to many girls.  This video shows the illuminating class project in action.

Do you know any engineering and technology activities of special interest to female students? Leave a comment with your suggestion and share it with others in the community!

And for more on female-friendly science and technologies, take a look at my article, “Gender Differences in Learning Style Specific to Science, Math, Engineering and Technology (SMET).

Positive Messages for Positive Outcomes

Two noteworthy events have occurred recently in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) arena.

The American Association of University Women (AAUW), released a report “Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics“. And, sadly, Jaime Escalante, an outstanding math educator and one of my heroes, passed last week at age 78.

In my mind, Jaime Escalante’s teaching style personified what AAUW’s extensive review of the research literature recommends: send the message to students of all backgrounds—regardless of race, class, or gender—that they can excel in math and science, and they will.

Sounds simple, yes? But we all know that it’s not so simple to change the mindsets of students who often hear the opposite message coming at them from home, peers, the media, and even educators.

Many of Mr. Escalante’s students in the inner city Los Angeles high school where he taught had been hearing for years that they were not good at math or at school. To counteract this, he undertook a risky and relentless mission to let his students know they could excel at academics and achieve any career goal. His techniques were dramatic—for example he required students to answer a homework question before entering the classroom—but they needed to be in order to work.

And they did! By 1982, 18 of Mr. Escalante’s students passed the Advanced Placement (AP) Calculus exam and later 30 of 33 students passed.

To help girls know they can succeed in math and science, the AAUW study, which I highly recommend, points to a similar need for repeated messages. It also cites research that shows that interventions which expose females to positive messages about women in engineering increase their interest in this field.

Educators must be as relentless and dramatic as Mr. Escalante in sending the message that yes, girls and women can have math and science careers—whether this is at the university or the career technical education level.

Put up posters in school hallways showing female role models in STEM careers, show career videos of role models in the workplace, arrange for women in STEM careers to visit classrooms and serve as mentors, encourage female students to visit websites that feature female role models, and do this repeatedly.

It will be through persistent and consistent messages that we will inspire girls to consider the full range of STEM careers open to them.

What are your thoughts about how to best send positive messages to female students? I invite your comments.

Early Bird Discount Ends April 30th – Next WomenTech Educators Training
Join us on June 28/29 for the next WomenTech Educator’s Workshop and we’ll help you create an action plan for showcasing positive messages to female STEM students. The $100 early bird discount ends on Friday April 30th, and our last training sold out weeks in advance, so be sure to sign-up now to reserve your space and save!

Going to WEPAN? Say Hello.
If you happen to be at the WEPAN/NAMEPA Conference in Baltimore today, I hope you’ll stop by Stadium 1-2 from 9:30 am to 10:30 am where I’ll be presenting my paper on “The CalWomenTech Project: Using Surveys to Inform Retention Strategies of Female Technology Students.” I’ll also have a table at the Showcase Spotlight Poster Presentation in the afternoon. Come by and say hello. I’d love to connect with you!

Reaching the Tipping Point for Women in Technology

Did you know that men originally dominated the secretarial field and it was not until the 1930s that women entered the profession in significant numbers?  Biology – an area of science in which 55% of bachelor’s degrees went to women in 1998 – only awarded 29% of bachelor’s to women in 1971.

It makes me wonder: what will help us reach the “Tipping Point”, that critical juncture at which we see the number of women in technology careers substantially increase? I think if every school were to create a small outreach campaign and have classroom strategies in place to retain women in technology the numbers would tip.  In fact, there is research showing that as more women enter and stay in a field, more follow, and that attitudes toward female students are key (Cohoon 2002).

What little things can we do to make a big difference so it’s no longer unusual to see women auto technicians or game developers or engineers?  I invite your comments below.

By the way, I was at a statewide community college conference in CA last week and, in separate conversations, two administrators from the same community college told me how much their three faculty members learned from our recent WomenTech Training.  In August they’ll be doing an in-service as a “flex” activity at their College using our Train-the-Trainer materials.

Now, if that could happen at every school, maybe we’d reach the tipping point a little quicker!   (FYI – our next training is June 28-29.  The early bird discount ends on April 30th.)

Legislation Introduced to Expand Women’s Access to High-Paying Jobs

Congressman Jared Polis (CO-2) and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (CT-3) along with 40 of their colleagues, introduced H.R. 4830, the Women and Workforce Investment for Nontraditional Jobs (Women WIN Jobs) Act-to fight gender inequity in the workplace and give low-income women a pathway out of poverty.

The press release includes stats which confirm our tipping point is not yet in sight: “Nontraditional jobs—those in which women comprise 25% or less of employees—pay 20-30% more than traditionally female jobs, but only 6.2% of women are employed in these occupations.” (Read Full Press Release; Read Fact Sheet)

Help Wanted

IWITTS is seeking an East Coast WomenTech Training Consultant to do our trainings onsite.  Preference given to those who have participated in our state or national WomenTech trainings and who head programs related to career and technical education.  Trainers will conduct approximately 3-6 one or two day trainings per year.  To apply, please send a cover letter with your resume to jobs at with WomenTech Trainer Application in the subject line.

Computer Engineer Barbie: Geek Chic?

Photo: Mattel

Photo: Mattel

The latest Barbie doll, due for release in October, is a computer engineer with a binary number t-shirt and matching pink laptop and cell phone headset. Her occupation was chosen after Mattel conducted a vote of Barbie admirers.

Whether you think she’s “geek chic” or feel that her highly sexualized figure and clothing sends the wrong message, the fact is that Barbie has a big impact on girls.  According to Mattel, 90% of girls ages 3-10 own at least one Barbie doll and has 18 million registered users worldwide. Like it or not, Barbie is a popular culture icon and a role model for girls.

Now, I’d rather have Barbie be a computer engineer than say “Math class is hard” (as she used to).  But what I’d really prefer is for real role models to become as popular among young girls as Barbie is.

For example, DragonFlyTV’s SciGirls videos and activity guides do a great job of bringing “geek chic” to kids.  The DVDs feature a group of hip, racially diverse girls from around the country having fun with science and getting down and dirty — whether it’s digging in the bogs, playing taiko drums, building a doghouse, snorkeling, or playing sports. The girls make science colorful and fun, while explaining and demonstrating science concepts and serving as real world role models for your female students.

Also, Education for Innovation posted a new video on gender equity for secondary school students.  The video does an excellent job explaining how teachers can incorporate female-friendly learning style techniques into their classrooms to encourage students named Brittany, Bianca, or even Barbie to sign up for and stay in technology courses.

What do you think about the new Computer Barbie?  Is she geek chic or needing a reboot?

State of the Union: Career Pathways for Working Families

I listened carefully to President Obama’s State of the Union Address last month and was pleased to hear him say, “Still, in this economy, a high school diploma no longer guarantees a good job. That’s why I urge the Senate to follow the House and pass a bill that will revitalize our community colleges, which are a career pathway to the children of so many working families.”

IWITTS’ work focuses on ensuring that working women are part of the science and technology landscape with an emphasis on technician-level careers. Sometimes we are asked, “Why focus on careers at the technician level? Every girl and woman should have the opportunity to go to four-year colleges.”

True, however, if we only introduce women and girls to engineering and science careers that require a bachelor’s degree or graduate education, we will have missed the opportunity to impact the majority of women and girls who come from working families and who attend community colleges, not four-year universities.

IWITTS strives to bridge the gender gap in technology for these women and girls in particular because 1) they have made the fewest inroads in the science and technology workforce and 2) they are among those most in need of better jobs.

Women and girls of working families deserve entrée to the jobs of the future – green jobs, biotechnology, medical information technology and construction – and I am so glad that President Obama has focused attention on our community colleges and the career pathways they provide to all students.

What do you think? Should we focus primarily on professional occupations for women and girls in Science, Engineering, Math & Technology (STEM) or should we focus in all areas including at the technician level?

WomenTech PosterDid you know? Role Models are a top way to inspire women to choose careers in traditionally-male fields.

Our series of 7 posters feature real women working in trades & tech. Use them in classrooms, counseling offices and hallways to make women think twice about their career options.

Green Jobs: Not For Men Only

The bright spot on the economic recovery horizon is green jobs. Community colleges are partnering with Workforce Investment Boards to provide education/training to prepare the workforce for this new sector. But is it so new?

At a conference panel I recently attended, many of the green jobs being discussed were in power plant and construction-related occupations.  Women, who represent less than 10% of workers in these areas, have been trying to break in for years with little progress.  

In 1993, I collected data on the small percentage of women in U.S. Department of Labor School-To-Work sites and testified before Congress.  Wow, here we are 17 years later and green jobs – the crown jewel of job training – is likely to have less than 10% females. 

When asked how many women work in the power plant, the panelist replied, “One very hardy woman.”  We don’t need a lone “hardy” woman.  What we need is a unified program of change, similar to IWITTS’ achievements with the CalWomenTech Project.  We work with eight community college technology programs to develop their capacity to recruit and retain women.  The Project is being highlighted by the National Science Foundation for effective practices.

It’s 2010.  It’s just not acceptable to have women vastly underrepresented in green jobs and IWITTS can help.  I’ll be sharing our proven practices in an upcoming WomenTech Training on Feb 18/19 in the San Francisco Bay Area. We’re offering great group rates, including a  3-for-2 special and discount for groups of 10 or more.   Hope to see you in February!

Funding for Green Jobs Training

 Green jobs are a priority at the U.S. Department of Labor (U.S. DOL). The department believes that strong partnerships “are the key to the country’s success in strengthening not just training programs but also employers and industries” and “that’s why the training initiatives at the Department of Labor frequently involve strong partnerships with community colleges, local businesses, and workforce development boards.”  

In fact, over $305 million in grants were awarded by U.S. DOL in 2009 to support training for green jobs.  And just this month it announced $100 million in Energy Training Partnership Grants and another $150 million in “Pathways Out of Poverty” grants to help disadvantaged populations find employment in energy-efficiency and renewable energy industries.  This month’s grants are part of a larger Recovery Act initiative totaling $500 million — the department expects to release funding for two remaining green grant award categories this year.

Community colleges are already collaborating with workforce development boards to take advantage of grant dollars for green jobs, and there is a good chance that U.S. DOL is looking to partner with more educational institutions in 2010. So keep an eye on the U.S. DOL website for more funding opportunities in green jobs training! 

Recruitment Solutions from 2nd Annual CalWomenTech Project Partner Meeting

Instructors, administrators and counselors from the eight California community colleges involved in the CalWomenTech Project came together a couple of weeks ago  to share their successes recruiting and retaining women to targeted technology programs and to problem solve as a group to overcome key challenges they are encountering. One of the issues is the current economic situation in California, which seemed relevant to our audience across the country, and so I wanted to share some of the great solutions our colleges came up with:

Challenge: Due to budget cuts, many colleges have had to cut faculty and classes even as their enrollment keeps increasing. Trade and technology programs are overflowing with people looking to expand their career options. Unfortunately, this diminishes the opportunity for women overall as many women hesitate to sign up for a technical class and lose their chance to register when it fills up right away. One of the CalWomenTech colleges had three women try to add a technology class this fall; they even attended the class for several weeks. However, they could not continue on because no one dropped the class during the drop/add period.

Solutions: When recruiting women, focus efforts on priority registration groups such as Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOPS), athletes and fast track high school students so that the women will be able to enroll in classes that fill up quickly. Once you have women in the introductory courses, take time during class to register students for the next/another course in the program. This will act as a form of personal encouragement and ensure that female students who might be hesitant to sign up for another class will get a space.

Visit the CalWomenTech Section of the IWITTS website for more information on the CalWomenTech Project and the Proven Practices Library for case studies from the project (PDF).

Has your school seen an impact on recruiting women students during this economic downturn?

Recruiting: 9 Women in Auto Technology!

Last week we had the CalWomenTech Project Partner Meeting and our 8 community college sites presented their successes to each other. It was amazing, truly. What an incredibly dedicated group of educators, it’s a privilege to work with them. More on this to come.

At this meeting we also learned that one of the colleges, Evergreen Valley College (EVC) in San Jose, has 9 women in the introductory auto tech classes. EVC is a leader in auto tech with both a hybrid and Honda program and now the college is a leader on recruiting women.

Then this past Wednesday I and our Program Coordinator Daniella Severs spent 3 hours at Evergreen with the Head of the Auto Program, one of the instructorswho is a co-leader and the Dean of Workforce Development, revising the retention plan with the goal of ensuring that the women are retained.  

We used 100% of our brains for three hours to come up with some innovative strategies, as well as some standard ones. Each of these three men took responsibility for leading a piece of the plan which will involve others on the CalWomenTech leadership team.

What struck me was how deeply committed these men are to having the College’s female students succeed.  Auto technology only has 2% women nationally.  We need the men in the field to support women to ensure their success. We certainly have this at Evergreen. Personally I find it inspiring. 

We have many other committed men and women in the CalWomenTech Project, from time to time I’ll be bragging, I mean blogging on them.

Question/Answer: How Do We Improve Computer Science’s Image?

question markSee Wechie’s Comment of 8/21: There seems to be hundreds of separate initiatives to encourage girls to study computer science but there remains an image problem. How can we get an industry wide campaign going to improve the image of computing?

Yes, Wechie you are correct, there is a huge image problem. American Association of University Women’s Study, Tech Savvy: Educating Girls in the New Computer Age (2000) which you can download for free, documents the image problem among girls and many other studies have gone on to replicate these findings.

I would like to see one of the major computer giants – such as Apple or Electronic Arts – use their marketing savvy and department to team with a nonprofit (such as us) to develop a multi-media marketing campaign (YouTube, facebook, TV commercials, Posters) that could create a more positive image of computer science for women and girls (and men!).

Of course, we also advocate that schools help to change the image by showing female role models in posters and career videos — our womentechstore has many resources to help with this. I’ve personally previewed the videos we have and they are extremely well done. (Shameless plug). Now if we could combine this with a national campaign by industry leaders this could be the push that’s needed.

Question/Answer:What To Do When A Woman is Blocked by a Woman

On 8/27, Mcauly asks what should she do when she’s blocked by another woman? question markJulia Child actually gives us some guidance on what to do when as a woman you are blocked by another woman. (See my earlier post of 8/20).  Essentially the same thing you would do if you were blocked by a man. 1) She uses politically savvy – by referencing her ally in power (the ambassador); 2) she persists by insisting she be given the test and by asking to be given it again when it is designed for her to fail; 3) she over prepares and studies long, long hours – determined to pass; 4) she does not take it personally.

She reminds me of the first women entering firefighting and what they went through. Is it fair, no? However, there are important lessons to be learned from those pioneers like Julia who refuse to fail. To summarize: have good political skills, persist, over prepare, don’t take things personally.

Readers, do you have strategies you’ve used successfully that you’d like to share? Please comment.