Statistics show that only about 20 percent of engineering students are women, and that women make up only about 10 percent of professional engineers. Three women in the College of Engineering (COE) at Cal State Long Beach (CSULB) are trying to change that.
Bei Lu and Panadda Marayong, both assistant professors from CSULB’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and Lily Gossage, director of the College of Engineering Recruitment and Retention Center, received an approximately $16,000 grant from the IEEE Control Systems Society, including supplemental funding from the California Space Grant Consortium, to implement a unique program that encourages elementary school girls to explore an interest in engineering careers.
The “My Daughter is an Engineer” program will bring mothers and daughters and their elementary schools’ lead teachers to campus for a three-day residential program in July. Activities will include engineering-based workshops on robotics and control technology in everyday life, academic career preparation and skills learning, and engineering-relevant field trips.
The CSULB grant was one of just nine awarded among worldwide applicants.
“Research has shown us that we can help students help themselves with their academic success, but teaching parents to become fully engaged in their children’s educational pursuits is the greatest investment of effort that any outreach program can hope for,” Gossage pointed out. “Obviously, having parents who support their children’s education makes the greatest difference. Social stigmas discourage girls from considering engineering even though they’re often well prepared, but we can show them that engineering is quite a lucrative and awesome career for women.”
The “My Daughter” program is open to 20 fifth-grade girls, who will be selected on a competitive basis from six Long Beach Unified School District elementary schools that have been identified as having high-minority student enrollment and serving low-income families.
“The idea of reaching out to students at the earliest age possible, before they are subjected to peer pressure in the later years, is also supported by research,” she added. “Another factor is the way math is taught in many schools; we can help young girls overcome the negative mindset about math by showing them the practical uses of math.”
The program showcases engineering applications and the impact of engineering on daily life as well as provides information to support ongoing parental involvement. While teachers will be co-engaged in the program activities along with the mothers and daughters, teachers will also have additional projects-based workshops that incorporate four NASA Directorates and will be trained to weave NASA content into existing K-12 curriculum.
“We will have lead teachers from every participating school. They play a very critical role in their school’s curriculum, and they can bring back information to the entire school. They expand information beyond what occurs in the classroom,” Gossage said. “We can really use lead teachers as spokespersons for our programs and advocates for the girls.”
To maximize the grant so that the girls and mothers receive the fullest support possible, all three women will volunteer their time to conduct the program.
Gossage said the title of the grant proposal was not technical and probably caught the eye of those making decisions about the awarding of the grants. She said this is the first time she has heard of a program that incorporates engineering outreach for mothers and daughters and at the same time blends common program components to serve the professional development of school teachers.
CSULB has a long-standing commitment to promoting underrepresented minority students and women in sciences and engineering. Another recent program, the “Engineering Girls @ the Beach” program, was an off-shoot of its highly successful “Women Engineers @ the Beach” program. The “My Daughter is an Engineer” is a first-ever program established specifically to serve a mother-daughter population.
“The program’s title conveys a powerful and self-fulfilling quality, and we will work hard to give the girls the best chance possible to succeed,” Gossage noted. “We are very excited about the long-term impact of this program and would like to see it evolve in other districts and into other disciplines such as physics and areas where women continue to be underrepresented.”