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 at Cal State Long Beach are trying to change that, and four schools here are benefiting from their efforts.
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, have received about $16,000 in grant funding 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 brought mothers, daughters and their elementary schools’ lead teachers to CSULB recently for a three-day residential program.
Activities included engineering-based workshops on robotics and control technology in everyday life, academic career preparation and skills learning, and an engineering-relevant field trip.
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 said. “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 involved 15 fifth-grade girls who were selected on a competitive basis from Chavez, Edison, International and Roosevelt elementary schools, which have high-minority student enrollment and serve many 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,” Gossage 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 showcased engineering applications and the impact of engineering on daily life while providing information to support ongoing parental involvement. Teachers, who were engaged in program activities along with the mothers and daughters, also participated in projects-based workshops that wove NASA content into existing K-12 curriculum.
“We had 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.”
The “My Daughter” program took place over a three-day weekend in July. All three of the CSULB women volunteered their time to conduct the program.
“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 said. “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.”