Across the United States there is a serious shortage of women enrolled in engineering and degree programs and ultimately entering the work place. According to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), only 18-20 percent of engineering students in the nation’s universities are women. To further compound the problem, only 14 percent then go on to careers in engineering.
Why are so few women going into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields? According to ASME several reasons have been suggested including lack of female engineering role models, misconceptions of what it is like to be an engineer, and having fewer technical problem-solving opportunities through K-12 compared to men. It’s also suggested that there is lack of encouragement from parents, teachers, and counselors. “The real challenges for reaching out to young women is to get over the stereotype that engineering isn’t something girls do and then to help them build their confidence,” Betty Shanahan, executive director of the Society of Women Engineers, told the Washington Post.
The good news is that over the past decade, universities, K-12 schools, and industry have been working together to encourage more female students to explore science and engineering. Michigan Tech has a long and successful history of providing unique hands-on programing for young women that addresses the critical need for talent in STEM fields here in Michigan and across the nation. Our Summer Youth Programs (SYP) (http://www.syp.mtu.edu/) provide an on-campus experience for pre-college students designed to ignite their passions in STEM.
To encourage young women to pursue engineering education and careers, Michigan Tech’s industry partners have stepped up by investing in the university’s signature engineering and STEM summer youth programs geared for young women.
Over the past two years, Ford Motor Company has provided $40,000 for Michigan Tech’s Women in Engineering (WIE) and Women in Computer Science (WICS) summer youth programs. The WIE program, which began in 1973, is a week-long summer camp for high-achieving young women in grades 9-11. Led by faculty, staff, and graduate students from Michigan Tech and role model speakers from industry, participants spend the week exploring future careers in engineering. They learn about multiple engineering fields, complete group projects, and more. In addition to Ford, many companies have supported WIE scholarships over the past 40 years with notable recent significant funding from the 3M Foundation, donating $150,000 over the past 6 years, sending girls from Minnesota for an experience of a lifetime.
“Ford Motor Company is pleased to support the WIE program at Michigan Tech,” said Cindy Hodges, who is chassis supplier technical assistant site manager at Ford. “We recognize how important it is to encourage young women to study engineering. As an alumna of the WIE program myself, I know how the program really helped me determine I wanted to be an engineer. It’s great to be a part of this wonderful program.”
In addition to WIE support, funding will be used to create a Junior Women in Engineering program in 2016. Similar to WIE, it provides an opportunity for younger women (grades 6-8) to explore fields of engineering through hands-on projects and investigations. This program will serve as preparation for the WIE program.
Related to the engineering summer programs, Ford provided funding for the 2016 Women in Computer Science (WICS) youth program. WICS brings young women to campus for an exploration in computer science (CS) fields, a program on campus which was brought back to life thanks to a donation of $45,000 over the past three years by Lansing, MI based Jackson National Life. The primary goal is to introduce the students to the many ways that CS profoundly impacts every industry from medicine to e-commerce, engineering to insurance, and much more. By giving high school girls an opportunity to explore computing projects alongside their peers, we build their confidence in their ability to succeed in a field in which women are often underrepresented. WICS students will take their new confidence and skills with them into post-secondary programs — eventually bringing them into STEM professions.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) is also committed to increasing the number of women entering engineering professions, especially in the automotive industry. FCA Foundation donated $30,000 to create a week-long summer youth program in 2016, designed to encourage young women to consider careers in automotive engineering.
Women in Automotive Engineering (WIAE) serves to specifically engage high-achieving young women to experience this field in a hands-on, discovery-based learning environment amongst their own peers, and compel them to consider the immense possibilities that can be found in the automotive industry.
“Although women purchase 60 percent of all vehicles and influence nearly 85 percent of all car-buying decisions, enrollment of women in baccalaureate engineering programs remains stubbornly low at around 18 percent,” said Stephen L. Williams, head of safety compliance and product analysis for FCA North America. “By Sponsoring the FCA Women in Automotive Engineering Summer Youth Program at Michigan Tech, we hope to encourage promising young women to consider engineering as a field of study and a career in the automotive industry.”
WIAE will be modeled after the successful WIE program. However, WIAE will focus on disciplines and projects directly related to the automotive industry in areas of mechanical, electrical, and biomedical engineering as well as human machine interface.
By hosting programs exclusively for girls, Michigan Tech is trying to change the widespread perception that STEM fields are only for males. The programs also promote diversity by welcoming students from across the U.S. and around the world.
Michigan Tech would like to challenge industry partners and individuals who are passionate about advancing women in STEM fields to fully scholarship all 240 women program participants for 2016. To learn more about how you and your company can make a lasting impact for the next generation of women leaders, please visit http://www.superiorideas.org/projects/precollege-scholarships or contact:
Director of the Center for Pre-College Outreach