About 50 fourth-grade girls participated in the ‘Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day’ at A.J. Whittenberg Elementary School of Engineering in Greenville. (Photo/Liz Segrist)
By Liz Segrist
Published Feb. 21, 2013
“Say it with me: math, science and engineering — it’s a girl thing.”
That was the message Serita Acker had about 50 fourth-grade girls repeat back to her at “Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day” at A.J. Whittenberg Elementary School of Engineering in Greenville Thursday.
“It’s so important to connect with them on their interests,” said Acker, Clemson University’s director of Women in Science and Engineering. “Girls this age like nail polish and make-up, so I tell them about how chemical engineers make those products safe. They like birthday parties, so I explain how industrial engineers plan things, like bridges and roads.”
They talked about what it’s like to be an engineer and the type of jobs that are available for engineers. Then, students played a game in which they had to build and launch rockets.
Students on each side of the room held strings taut. In teams, they worked to blow up balloons, tape straws to them and launch their rockets along the strings across the room, competing to go the furthest.
The instructor counted to three and the students released the balloons. Their faces lit up as the balloons zipped across the room. They cheered and high-fived.
The engineers said getting girls interested and excited in STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — fields early on is a crucial component to recruiting women to the field.
“Women make up 50% of the population, therefore any of the designs or things being created are affecting women, so having a balanced view is so important,” said Judy Wortkoetter, a land development and civil engineer with Greenville County.
Many of the women engineers had been in the minority of their engineering programs during their collegiate careers. Most of them fell in love with engineering and math from an early age.
Wortkoetter would take her brother’s building set and build parking garages as a child. Kim Jackson, a mechanical engineer with Fluor, would play with a radio when she was younger. Francoise Gamble, a structural engineer with Fluor, always had a love for math.
“It’s so important to get women in the field for a different point of view. It brings more diversity and creativity to the table,” Gamble said. “So many young girls don’t think they’re good at math. I don’t know where they got this idea, but there’s no reason that they can’t excel in it.”