by Joe King
NIU and the Girl Scouts of America are grooming a new generation of women engineers, thanks to a grant from the Motorola Foundation.
The $50,000 grant to NIU’s College of Engineering and Engineering Technology supports the Enhancing Engineering Pathways program. As part of that program, the college has established relationships with the Sybaquay Council and the Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana Council of the Girl Scouts of America to encourage Scouts to pursue careers in engineering.
The program targets girls in middle school because studies have shown that it is at that age when career aspirations are often shaped and when girls begin to lose interest in math and science – critical classes for future engineers.
A series of Saturday workshops at NIU-Naperville began last month. Girls work on fun projects that demonstrate how math and science skills are applied in engineering. Projects include building simple circuits, experimenting with magnets and “reverse engineering” (dismantling) household items to see how they are built and operate.
Integral to the program is a series of mentoring relationships.
The 48 middle school Girls Scouts who registered for the program have been divided into eight teams, each of which is overseen by two outstanding high school students. The activities of those young women are, in turn, supervised by five undergraduate engineering students from NIU who are guided by NIU professors. All of those participants are women.
It is hoped that the mentors will assist their protégés with everything from questions on homework to selection of high school classes to evaluating college engineering programs.
“We hope that these mentoring relationships create a sustainable pathway to help ease the transition for girls as they move from middle school to high school to college engineering programs,” says Mansour Tahernezhadi, associate dean of the college and co-principal investigator of the project.
“Young women rely upon social experiences for response and development, so we need good women role models to aid in the development of future engineers,” adds Suma Rajashankar, an adjunct professor of electrical engineering at NIU and lead principal investigator for the project.
The program will be capped by a week-long camp in June that will include tours of local high-tech companies and an opportunity to meet women engineers and learn about the paths that led them to their careers. High school-age participants also will have an opportunity to visit NIU during the school year to get a firsthand look at college engineering courses and the type of projects that students do.
Promod Vohra, dean of NIU’s engineering school and one of the co-principal investigators on the project, says programs like this one are a matter of national importance.
“Studies have repeatedly demonstrated the need for the United States to graduate more engineers,” Vohra says. “To reach that goal we must work harder at recruiting women and minority students who presently give little thought to working in the field, and we need to start making girls aware of these opportunities at an early age. We are very grateful to Motorola for helping us extend our efforts in that regard.”
For more information on participating in the program, contact Rajashankar at (815) 753-9966 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.