Tag Archives: girls

Why We Should Prepare Our Daughters (and Our Sons) for Modern Manufacturing Jobs

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal pointed out that even though women are a bigger part of the overall workforce, they make up only 27 percent of the manufacturing workforce, down from down from 32 percent in the early 1990s.

“Women tend to be less interested in engineering than men, which is a big skill in manufacturing. Women also tend to take less math courses,” said Journal reporter James Hagerty. “Manufacturers are going to have to make the case to young women that manufacturing can be a very good career.”

A number of factors cause women to be less interested in manufacturing, one of the most important among them being perceptions of the field. Many people think manufacturing jobs involve heavy-duty physical labor in dark and sometimes dangerous factories. In her book, “Grace and Grit,” Lilly Ledbetter describes these kinds of conditions at the Goodyear tire factory where she worked throughout the 1970s. On top of workplace injuries, noxious chemicals, and unrelenting harassment, she discovered she was being paid thousands less than her male coworkers. Her lawsuit made it to the Supreme Court and was eventually the catalyst for the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

That unwelcoming image of mid-century manufacturing has stuck around. But manufacturing today has changed a great deal since Ledbetter’s day. Women and men working in manufacturing today are critical to the innovation cycle. They design parts, operate robots, and act as key advisors on the practical aspects of new designs or processes. The work is highly skilled and often requires sophisticated computer and engineering knowledge.

Those specialized skills are the focus of the White House’s recently announced new public-private manufacturing hub in North Carolina. It’s the first in a series of institutes Obama has planned. This one is a group of businesses and universities in Raleigh that, using federal funding, will focus on connecting research with manufacturing. The idea is to apply semiconductor technology to developing energy efficient devices for cars, electronics, and motors.

Obama sees improving the manufacturing industry as key to raising middle class incomes. With certificate training, manufacturing salaries can start around $40,000. And as Hagerty pointed out, these jobs offer better pay and benefits on average than service jobs, particularly jobs in retail or food service, which tend to attract a lot of women.

But these middle-tier jobs often go unfilled because employers can’t find qualified applicants. In a recent Bloomberg Businessweek article Anthony P. Carnevale, an economist and head of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, said that even though the manufacturing sector will shrink by a million jobs over the next decade, it will still experience a huge labor shortfall as 2 million workers retire without enough new, trained workers to take their place.

One young women who may be poised to do just that is Sarah Hertzler, a high school junior in South Fayette, Pennsylvania. who fell in love with engineering after joining a club for girls interested in building rockets and robots.

“Sometimes when you think about engineering, you think of grease and nuts and bolts,” she told the Wall Street Journal. “But it’s about ideas and designing.”

Like many schools in the Pittsburgh region, South Fayette High School emphasizes computational thinking and creativity in its curriculum. It also gives students access to lots of technology. The region is ripe with opportunities for girls like Sarah—from Girls of Steel, Pittsburgh’s all-girls robotics team, to the Girls Math & Science Partnership, where girls meet with mentors and explore STEM careers.

And when it comes time to choose what kind of career to pursue, the work of the Pittsburgh Technology Council and others ensures they’ll have a world of STEM job options open to them.

Why Entrepreneurs Are Important Role Models for Creative Kids

When Steve Jobs was 12, he looked up Bill Hewlett, the CEO of Hewlett-Packard, in the phone book, called him up, and asked if he had any spare parts for the frequency counter he was building in school. Hewlett helped Jobs out with the frequency counter, and then ended up offering him a job on the HP assembly line that summer.

You know the rest of the story.

The benefits of teaching kids entrepreneurship skills have been written about widely. Letting kids build their own businesses gives them hands-on experience solving tough challenges. But working with role models who are entrepreneurs themselves, like Jobs did with Hewlett, can be an amazing bonus that nurtures kids’ entrepreneurial spirit and allows them to envision what’s truly possible.

The Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh’s Startup Something project aims to expose kids to local role models who have become their own bosses. The program brings kids on visits to local technology startups like iTwixie, Thread International, and Idea Foundry.

Startup Something recently matched students with Pittsburgh video game creators from Digital Dream Labs, creators of the cloudBoard video game, for a workshop about game design. Teens were challenged to think like designers as they reimagined the classic board game checkers. First, they pinpointed what they didn’t like about the game. Then, working with their mentors, they incorporated new elements like dice and playing cards, testing each new idea as they went along. At the end, the Digital Dream Labs team explained how their cloudBoard video game was transformed from an idea into a retail product.

To help close the still shocking gap between the number of women and men in STEM careers, CanTEEN offers an interactive game that guides girls through an array of STEM careers with challenges and questions, including some about science greats like Marie Curie and Sally Ride. CanTEEN also sponsors Girls Engaged in Math and Science, or GEMS, which are afterschool workshops that feature local female role models in STEM careers.

Sejal Hathi, a young entrepreneur and medical student who heads up both GirlTank and S2 Capital, shares her thoughts about the importance of young female entrepreneurs connecting with mentors in a piece in the Huffington Post. Her own mentors, she writes, supported her ambitions and helped her find the resources to build her websites. Without these role models, she says, too many young entrepreneurs get lost in the process.

Workshops and afterschool programs are a critical first step for fostering future entrepreneurs, but internships and apprenticeships are also invaluable. The STEAMM Academy (the extra “M” stands for medicine) at Highlands High School is a school-within-a-school that lets kids take part in internship and shadowing opportunities at local partner businesses in the manufacturing, health care, and design sectors. They can also earn up to 23 credits toward a college degree.

Apprenticeships like these can even turn into jobs, which helps both young people graduating in a tough economy and manufacturing employers who are searching high and low for enough qualified people, according to a recent New York Times story.

Beyond helping kids envision their future, programs like these can help cities and regions build their own economic futures. Cities such as Pittsburgh, which suffered population loss during the long years of economic retrenchment, are anxious to keep talented young people at home to build the next economic resurgence. Increasing the capacity on the ground to engage children early is an important first step to stemming brain drain and building a vibrant local economy because increasingly, that economy will be built on the entrepreneurial spirit.

The “Good at Math” Myth

I remember the exact moment when I completely gave up on math. When I was in seventh grade, I hit a wall in geometry.  I told my teacher I was worried I just wasn’t “good” at math. “No problem,” he told me. “Some people are left-brained and good at math and logic, while others are right-brained and good at being creative.”

Well, I know now that’s completely bogus.  But unfortunately it turned me away from math entirely and confirmed what I’d been thinking—I just wasn’t a “math person”.

My geometry teacher’s advice reflected the tightly held notion that our brains are wired to be either good or bad at math. But an evolving body of research continues to show that math as an innate ability is a myth. Little plus and minus signs aren’t hiding within the double helixes of our DNA, determining whether we’re capable of high school algebra. Like for any other discipline, success in math comes from a variety of things, including resources, interest, and practice.

Economics professor Miles Kimball and finance professor Noah Smith recently described this phenomenon in The Atlantic. They argue the myth that math ability and intelligence in general—is innate and unchangeable squanders an immeasurable amount of talent and potential in our nation’s students.

Kimball and Smith agree that natural talent may play a role in some of the most elite mathematicians’ success. But natural ability doesn’t come into play as much as we might think for the kind of math that stumped me and so many American students, and stops them from pursuing STEM careers down the line. “For high-school math, inborn talent is much less important than hard work, preparation, and self-confidence,” they write.

The concept of inborn talent still weighs heavily on us from a young age, though. After that experience in 7th grade, I started off the first day of math class with my head down, believing I was already doomed because my “left brain” just wasn’t cut out for this stuff. Of course, it was a self-fulfilling prophecy, exacerbated by difficult material and nasty quiz scores that I took as further evidence of my innate lack of math talent. A couple years later, I decided to opt out of high school chemistry entirely. To this day I’ve never taken a chemistry class, all because I heard math was somehow involved.

A study by the University of Illinois found when young children believed their ability to perform certain tasks depended on natural ability, it had adverse consequences on their achievement after controlling for other variables.

The idea that math ability is like height or hair color affects everyone, but its effects are most potent for girls (like me), who seem to cling to the idea of innate math ability more than boys do, according to a study done conducted by Carol Dweck, a national leader in motivation research.

How do we help all kids believe they can succeed in STEM subjects?

As she explained in her 2006 paper, “Is Math a Gift? Beliefs That Put Females At Risk,” Dweck and fellow Stanford researcher Heidi Grant conducted another study in 2003 in which they examined a pre-med chemistry class at Columbia University. Among women who thought of intellectual ability as a “gift” or a fixed-ability, there was the typical achievement gap. But for the women who thought they could develop intellectual skills? The gender difference was reversed and those female students received higher final grades.

“The vulnerability seems to reside more in the [students] who see their ability as something that is fixed and that can be judged from their performance—so that when they hit challenges, their ability comes into question: If you have to struggle, then you must not have the gift. If your initial grades are poor, you must not have the gift,” wrote Dweck about the study.

The concept also affects kids from low-income families, who come to math class with less summer math practice, tutoring, and extra-curricular STEM activities than their higher income peers. As Kimball and Smith explain, lower-income kids too often interpret this lack of experience as lack of ability as their higher-income peers pass them up.

Thanks to my seventh grade math teacher, however well meaning he was, there’s an entire world of math and science I’ve never explored, and many fascinating career options that I never even considered. I’m lucky that I went on to do something I love, but my teacher introducing the idea that math was a talent I just didn’t have potentially squashed future interests, and made the rest of my math career in school pretty loathsome.

So how do we change the narrative? How do we help all kids believe they can succeed in STEM subjects and even become a mathematician or an astrophysicist if they’re interested and willing to practice? Several Pittsburgh organizations have the right idea—they’re sparking passion early and providing hands-on experiences.

One after school program, TechGYRLS, introduces girls to STEM careers by providing hands-on design and engineering challenges. The girls also meet with professional mentors who have STEM backgrounds. They’ve built robots, lifted fingerprints, and designed working boats.

WQED is expanding its Design Lives Here program, a hands-on engineering and design competition where kids complete challenges with help from local engineering mentors. Through trial and error, kids figure out tasks like how to move a ping-pong ball down a zip line and eventually invent a solution to a common problem.

Programs like these show kids the process that goes on behind STEM, and lets them experience first-hand the feeling of succeeding through practice and old fashioned grit—something I could have used in my middle school days.

“Perhaps people want to believe in innate gifts over earned abilities,” writes Dweck. “That way they can put high achievers on a pedestal and see them as different from others. Well, they are different from others, but I’m inclined to put more value on the process that got them there than on some ability they came with.”


STEM Fields: Not Just For The Boys

The relationship between young women and STEM subjects has become almost a trope, and a tragic one at that. We’ve all heard it over and over again, from the infamous Mattel Barbie doll that once uttered the words, “Math is tough!” to the unfortunately sexist obituary of pioneer rocket scientist Yvonne Brill published just last month in the New York Times. In what some have called “patronizing” language, the obituary of the famed scientist opened with praise for her beef stroganoff and willingness to follow her husband from job to job. What I’m getting at is that the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics aren’t exactly welcoming women at the door. More importantly, experts and educators have started to notice—and are working to change it.

“Today, women hold a disproportionately small share of the degrees in majors that strongly correlate to post-college STEM jobs such as math and engineering,” said Chelsea Clinton in a recent article for the Huffington Post. “It’s not only women who have lost out because of these disparities. Overall economic growth has suffered too,” she continued, citing a Booz & Company study that found that America’s gross domestic product would rise by 5 percent if women matched men’s employment rates. “With the U.S. Department of Commerce expecting STEM jobs to grow 17 percent between 2008 [and] 2018 … excluding women from the pipeline hurts American companies in search of the best high-tech talent,” she said. “Economic expansion hinges on both halves of the workforce receiving the tools needed to drive innovation.”

Many have echoed this sentiment, including Chairman of Shell UK Edward Daniels, who penned a recent op-ed for the London Evening Standard. “The chronic shortage of girls going into science and engineering is not simply a question of gender equality. It is a huge threat to economic growth. We are losing out on untapped talent and failing to keep pace with our competitors,” said Daniels, who stated that roughly 90 percent of girls “effectively disqualify themselves” from a career in engineering by the age of 14.

Daniels suggested that female role models in STEM fields need to be more visible if we are ever going to break the “just for boys” stereotype that surrounds potential career paths in math and science—something that the women behind the Girls of Steel robotics team in Pittsburgh have been working on.

The team, started in 2011 by Carnegie Mellon University’s robotics industry program director Patti Rote, aims to “give girls the skills that will last far beyond their high-school years,” according to their mission statement, and has been a huge success. As reporter Dave Zuchowski noted in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, in their first year the team took home Rookie All Star awards at the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science Technology (FIRST) regional competitions in both Pittsburgh and Washington, DC. Their winning streak continued in 2012 when they won the Engineering Inspiration Award. Last month, they won the Dean’s List Finalist Award and again won the Engineering Inspiration Award, which qualifies them for the world championship April 25-27 in St. Louis.

FIRST is another organization working to create opportunities for young people in STEM fields, with a vision of creating a world “where young people dream of becoming science and technology leaders.” The nonprofit has been staging youth robotics championships for over 20 years.

The vision of FIRST is unfortunately not yet a reality, but the work of programs like Girls of Steel is helping to make it become one. Groups like Click! Spy School, which introduces young girls to science concepts through “covert missions” where they are secret agents-in-training, and the career exploration program CanTEEN, also in Pittsburgh, are doing incredible work engaging young women in STEM subjects like never before and helping them envision future careers. Both are programs of the Carnegie Science Center’s Chevron Center for STEM Education and Career Development.

“We need to work with teachers to ensure classroom science offers girls a vision that matches their personal values by showing that it is the engineer, the physicist, who can make major contributions to solving global challenges,” said Daniels, and it is the innovative educators in Pittsburgh and elsewhere who are spearheading this movement, exemplifying the goals Daniels and other field experts have been echoing for far too long.

International Spy School based in Pittsburgh gives middle school girls a head start in STEM

A group of young girls huddle around a sheet of paper speckled with a dark set of fingerprints.  Magnifying glasses in hand, they study the shapes and patterns of a clue. Across the room, another group uses iPhones to scan QR codes, receiving messages from senior agents at an off-site satellite base.  No, these girls are not being enlisted by the FBI to crack an international case…at least not yet, anyway. Solving mysteries using cutting-edge technology is all in a day’s work at Click! Spy School, an initiative of the Girls, Math & Science Program (GMSP), based at Carnegie Science Center.

Click! engages middle school girls ages 10–14 to become “agents-in-training” as they explore  science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Through summer camps, after school programs, condensed activity sessions, and online experiences, Click! allows girls to assume the identity of a “secret agent” on a covert mission to investigate a global crisis. Combining immersive storylines with practical applications, Click! fosters tactile-based inquiry, real-world problem solving skills, and career exploration in STEM. The Spy School provides critical informal science learning opportunities outside of the classroom, with a strong commitment to helping girls see themselves as future STEM professionals.

“There’s a lot of creativity with the Click! program, but it’s important for the story to be grounded in actual science,” says scientist-in-residence Sandlin Seguin. “It’s a big deal for these young girls to hear a scientist tell them you’re really good at this—you should be a scientist or yes, this is how I solve problems at work. Seeing them behave like scientists really validates what GMSP is doing through Click!

Conceived in 2005 by the University of Pittsburgh’s Learning Research and Development Center (LRDC) in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon School of Design, Click! Spy School focuses on three distinct areas of STEM—biomedical science, environmental protection, and expressive technology. In 2006, the Girls, Math & Science Partnership found a home at Carnegie Science Center.

“The Science Center is a hub for world-renowned education initiatives in STEM,” says John Radzilowicz, director of science at the Science Center. “With the Buhl Digital Planetarium, USS Requin, Rangos Omnimax Theater, and hundreds of hands-on exhibits, our campus is a center where young people can have experiences that inspire them for the rest of their lives. Click! is one of the programs of our Chevron Center for STEM Education and Career Development, which convenes industry leaders, educators, parents, and students to focus efforts to advance science literacy and cultivate the next generation workforce in STEM careers.”

In 2010, a Digital Media and Learning grant from the MacArthur Foundation allowed GMSP to translate the immersive Click! experience into a web-based interactive program to address the gender gap in online gaming. A virtual Click! Spy School was created, complete with female senior agents who mentor and communicate to “agents-in-training,” a chat function, and individual profiles. The online Spy School begins with solving an environmental crisis in Africa using digital “mini-games.” Using accessible and cost-effective online technology, the virtual Spy Camp removes the geographical barriers and allows girls from all walks of life to participate.

Using the city as a setting for adventure

On a typical day at a Click! camp, “junior agents” may be kayaking along the Ohio River, figuring out a whodunit at a local art museum like the Mattress Factory, writing a top-secret computer language, discovering sports science at Heinz Field, or touring a multinational corporation like Delmonte Foods. By venturing into their own backyard, Click! girls are able to connect international issues—like water quality, food shortages, and urban planning—to those that are happening in Pittsburgh.

“Agents-in-training” complete missions using core science methods while incorporating modern technology like iPhones, programming, mobile apps, gigapan imaging, and video conferencing. By the end of a Click! experience, girls have skills in fingerprint analysis, GPS location, water testing, collecting information, DNA testing, computer programming, calculating carbon footprints, and more. All programs are aimed at giving girls confidence in their ability to understand real-life applications of STEM, interpret information, collect and analyze data, construct explanations, design solutions, and obtain and communicate information.

“The girls get to become an international STEM professional, they even design a costume for their ‘passport photo’ and are asked to speak in character,” says Heather Mallak, Manager of Emerging technology  for Girls, Math & Science Partnership, who focuses on the play, design, and web-based aspects of the program. “A mission may involve building circuitry skills through an online game and then physically disassembling and rewiring an electronic. Mixing things up really keeps them interested.”

Since the program’s inception, Click! has reached more than 600 girls through onsite visits to the Science Center, partnerships with public and private schools, Girl Scout activities, community outreach, and afterschool programs.

Click! enlists all-star STEM “Senior Agents”

The Girls, Math & Science Partnership is led by Mallak; Nina Barbuto, trained architect and director of Assemble—a creative art space for children; scientist-in-residence Sandlin Seguin, PhD; and Zachary Koopmans, a mathematics Carnegie Mellon University grad and current engineering student at the University of Pittsburgh.

“There’s a lot of creativity with the Click! program, but it’s important for the story to be grounded in actual science,” says scientist-in-residence Sandlin Seguin. “It’s a big deal for these young girls to hear a scientist tell them you’re really good at this—you should be a scientist or yes, this is how I solve problems at work. Seeing them behave like scientists really validates what GMSP is doing through Click!

Partnerships like that with Seguin are instrumental to Click!’s success. A network of local and national female STEM professionals from esteemed companies and universities that regularly contribute to the Click! curriculum, guest counsel, serve as professional mentors, and act as cameo roles in the camps’ narrative.

Putting the emphasis on girl power, now and in the future

By now, it is no secret that girls rock. But, recent studies show that girls are not as likely to see themselves as STEM professionals as their male counterparts. In the Pittsburgh region alone, according to a 2003 study of career barriers for women and minorities commissioned by The Heinz Endowments, only 9% of women pursue science and technology degrees compared to 26% of men.  This local study reflects national trends, and further demonstrates the need for programs, like Click!, that get girls involved with STEM at a young age.  Early intervention is the first step in ensuring that women are proportionally represented in the workforce of the future.

Over the next decade, the U.S. Department of Labor says 7 of the 10 projected fastest growing occupations are in STEM fields. STEM professionals are expected to earn 26% more over their lifetime than those who work in non-STEM careers. While women still face obstacles in the workplace, arming young girls with the tools they need to succeed in male-dominated professions is one of the main objectives of the Girls, Math & Science Partnership.

GMSP and Carnegie Science Center aim to break down the barriers of education: income, race, socioeconomic status, and geography. In the near future, Click! programs will be offered to the next generation of innovators in England, India,  in a Pittsburgh neighborhood library…and everywhere in between. Satellite base camps are popping up all over the world, and “agents-in-training” are everywhere.

So, the next time you encounter a middle-school girl, see her as a leader, a scientist, a visionary. Because she just may be a secret agent, on a mission to change the world one covert assignment at a time.