By Jessica Jones
Bumpus Middle School had its first session with iCan, program that is targeted toward girls in the sixth to eight grades and encourages girls’ interest in engineering through classroom activities and first-hand observations of engineers working in the field. Hoover High School Engineering Academy students also volunteered and shared advice from their experience in engineering classes.
During the two hour session Alabama Power volunteers facilitate hands-on engineering activities such as how to make an aluminum foil boat filled with pennies stay buoyant.
The program specifically targets middle school girls for a reason according to team leader of regulatory affairs, Natalie Dean.
“We’ve learned through our research that girls at that age start to make decisions about long-term career choices like deciding whether or not to take advance math and science at this age and those decisions they’re making now affect their future,” Dean said. “So one of the things we do is teach them about engineering and about those career choices, and how much fun it is and how they can learn and affect society by being an engineer and encourage them to take those math and science [classes] now so they’ll be prepared when they get to high school and then on to college.”
Societal pressures are often the cause of the lack of interest in the male dominated field, Dean said and girls don’t feel they are suited for a career that requires they take advanced math and science courses.
“Research shows that they think that engineering or those maths and sciences are too hard for them or they’re for boys and not for girls, or boys are better at them than they are and so they just kind of faze out of that,” she said. “It’s easier for them at this age with social pressures and other things to just take what they have to take in order to move on. So one of the things that we’re encouraging them [to do] is just try. You never know until you try, and a lot of times girls do excel in these programs.”
Dean, who graduated from Auburn University with a degree in mechanical engineering, remembers her own struggle when it came time to decide her career path.
“I was in a very similar position as these students,” Dean said. “I didn’t have any one teaching me about engineering, but I loved math and science. When I got to high school I realized engineering really sounded fun to me. I got to work with my hands. I would get to design things, build things, test things. So it was important to me to at least try. What I love about my engineering degree is I’m able to do lots of different things because of it. Engineering opens the door for them and that’s one of the things we want them to learn.”
Despite the overwhelming numbers of male engineers in comparison to female, the number of women in the field is climbing.
“If you look at any engineering school across the country they’re predominantly male,” Dean said. “There’s a small percentage of women that go into the engineering field and we see that’s declining throughout the country. So we feel like it’s important for us to volunteer to teach this next generation how important engineering is not just for them, not just for their family to make a good living, but really for society in general so they can build that next bridge, or they can be a part of that next technology like the iPhone that makes society better.”