Wednesday, August 12, 2020
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It was all fun for girls with STEM in Peoria

How is designing a project with Legos like coding a computer?

That’s one of the questions organizers of Caterpillar Inc’s fifth annual “Introduce a Girl to STEM Day” at the company’s Technical Information Center near Peoria hoped about 500 fifth- through eighth-grade girls who attended the workshop would walk away with.

So from 45 separate elementary and middle schools they came, all of them around Peoria, Illinois, to the Caterpillar facility in Mossville on Friday, the Peoria Journal-Star reports.

A Notre Dame H.S. student quizzes a student from Mossville Elementary (Fred Zwicky / Journal-Star / CC)

By using games like “Wheel of Engineering,” an activity that looks a lot like TV’s “Wheel of Fortune,” organizers hoped to educate the 500 or so fifth- through eighth-grade girls in attendance about careers in the STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and math.

“We’re really trying to target girls between fifth and eighth grades because that’s when we see a huge drop-off,” the paper quoted Brooke Hart, a Caterpillar engineer who’s part of Cat’s Women’s Initiative Network, which hosted the workshop, as saying.

AAUW says women are underrepresented in STEM fields

The American Association of University Women has long supported efforts to increase interest among girls in STEM fields. “Although women make up nearly half of all employees in the US economy, they hold only 29 percent of STEM jobs,” the association reports. “If women and underrepresented groups joined the STEM workforce in proportion to their representation in the overall labor force, the STEM worker shortage would disappear.”

It’s particularly bad in engineering: 12 percent of working engineers are women. In addition, black and Hispanic women make up only 2 percent of engineers. Yes, 2 percent.

There are, likewise, fields dominated by women, education being one of them. But jobs in education don’t pay as handsomely as those in engineering. I will say one thing, though, equality of pay for women in education is a little worse than equality of pay is for women in engineering fields, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Women earn about 81.2 percent of what men earn in careers related to mathematics and computers, which is close to the national average of 83 percent. And in education, training, and library work, women earn about 78.6 percent of what men earn.

The reasons for pay disparity are complex, but the reasons for the vast difference in representation in various fields could have a much simpler cause.

If fewer women work in STEM fields because girls just don’t like math or technology, on an individual basis, trying to change that is a losing cause. Nor do we have any ability whatsoever to change what kinds of things girls, or boys, like.

On the other hand, if the reason women are underrepresented in STEM disciplines, compared to their proportion in the general population, is that girls in middle school are unaware of opportunities available to them in those fields, then the “Introduce a Girl to STEM Day” may be just the ticket.

As for the original question about Legos, teams had to arrange seven Legos, then write instructions clear enough for a different team to rebuild the Legos in the same arrangement. The project introduced girls to technical writing, computer coding, and the importance of being specific and accurate, the Journal-Star reported.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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