Although women fill close to half of all jobs in the U.S. economy, they hold less than 25 percent of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) jobs, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. In suburban Chicago, the gender gap was already apparent at Elk Grove High School, where administrators have created a girls-only pre-engineering course to appeal to incoming students.
The numbers told the story. Elk Grove High School administrators could see that incoming freshman girls with high math scores weren’t enrolling in the school’s Introduction to Engineering Design class, while their male counterparts were.
In other words, girls with the aptitude to excel in the engineering field weren’t even taking the chance to explore it.
“The possibilities are endless”
The remedy? This year, EGHS debuted a girls-only section of Introduction to Engineering Design. Comprised of 17 students, itfollows the same curriculum as the other four sections, which are coed, but overwhelmingly male. However, the girls-only class chooses its own projects to tackle. Students also go on special field trips and have speakers throughout the year talk about STEM career possibilities for women.
“They’re getting the same principles and math, but we’re hoping to inspire them in different ways,” says Kyle Burritt, EGHS Associate Principal.
Ultimately, it’s about opening doors to an array of promising career options. “The possibilities are endless,” Burritt says. “There’s such a need for women in engineering and the other STEM fields. Plus, many of our students are bilingual, which is huge. They could virtually write their own ticket.”
Nancy Suarez, a student in the class, is glad she enrolled. "It's great that it's all girls because the stereotype is that engineering is for guys, and that was so ingrained in us,” she says. “When we do things, we don't have to compare ourselves to guys, and … you see you can do just as well as them. And we encourage each other."
Making a difference
When Burritt presented the idea to an Advisory Board that includes the Village of Elk Grove and local business owners, it was met with enthusiasm.
“We immediately recognized this as an opportunity for the Village to work in conjunction with the school district and local businesses to help address the STEM gender gap,” stated Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson.
Cultivating interest in the STEM fields among girls is also a focus of the TMA (Technology and Manufacturing Association). For example, its Women in TMA Committeewill participate in the 4th annual STEMAPALOOZA Science Expo in Chicago. Put on next year by the Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana, it will offer hands-on activities for girls.
Elk Grove High School also teams with the village and local businesses to offer an Advanced Machining Program that prepares students specifically for careers in manufacturing. The program was recently featured on Chicago’s WGN Morning News. See a clip here.
For more on women in STEM and manufacturing, check out "The Skills Gap And Why We Need A Modern Rosie", "Women In Manufacturing: Q&A With Allison Grealis," and "Goldie, The Newest Pioneer For Women In STEM"