It was a day to remember as third, fourth and fifth-grade girls from 12 Volusia County schools worked with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University's Society of Women Engineers during a day-long workshop to learn more about science, technology, engineering and math.
The Introduce a Girl to Engineering workshop on Saturday, March 24, brought in more than 300 students to get a hands-on experience that would teach them about different aspects of STEM, from aerodynamics to buoyancy and weight distribution.
More than 50 members of SWE oversaw the workshop, which is held once each year.
While women filled 47% of all U.S. jobs in 2015, they only held 24% of jobs in STEM, according to a 2017 report using data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. The report also showed that women only make up about 30% of all STEM degree holders. Women were reported to hold a disproportionately low share of degrees in engineering.
In 2015, only 14% of women were employed in an engineering occupation. It's a number that has not changed since 2009.
Embry-Riddle sophomore Natalie Hahn, president of Embry-Riddle’s chapter of the SWE, said she not only sees the workshop as important but a way to give girls the same encouragement as young males when it comes to pursuing a STEM career.
Hahn added that she also wants to see girls pursuing this field in order to design and create for an ever-changing world.
"Eventually my generation of engineers is going to retire and we need to make sure new technology and new infrastructure is going to keep up," Hahn said. "We really need to get the younger generation involved as soon a possible, especially young girls."
However, as seen from the turnout at the engineering workshop, there are people working to change those numbers.
Kelsey Rodgers, Embry-Riddle assistant professor of engineering fundamentals, said the importance of the workshop is to provide female role models that young girls can connect with. As a woman going into a STEM field, Rodgers said that while at times achieving her career goal was difficult, what helped her succeed was the support from other women around her.
"We really need to get the younger generation involved as soon a possible, especially young girls."Embry-Riddle sophomore Natalie Hahn, president of Embry-Riddle’s chapter of the SWE
It's the same kind of support Rodgers said she hopes young girls will find at the workshop.
"It creates a sense of belonging and they can see there are a lot of other women who sincerely enjoy math and being creative and exploring and discovering," Rodgers said. "It's a career field where you can help make a huge impact on people's daily lives."
One of the schools that had students present at the workshop was Cypress Creek Elementary where third-grade teacher Michelle Phelan has been working with 20 students on an after-school STEM program that also includes art.
Phelan has also been partnering with the university to bring in Embry-Riddle students to teach her STEAM Club more about these areas of study. Most recently, students in the club celebrated National Engineers Week with a three-day session with Embry-Riddle students who worked with them on different experiments to learn about engineering.
"Because my STEAM Club collaborated with Embry Riddle this past school year it was nice seeing CCE students have the opportunity to experience even more. Natalie did a fantastic job with my STEAM Club so I knew the girls would love her Embry Riddle Camp. It takes a village of empowering girls today to be the leading women of tomorrow," Phelan wrote in an email. "It gives the girls the confidence to do the things that they might not have had otherwise [and] breaks the barrier of what girls can do and what boys can do. Instead, it's what we can do."