Jeff Knapp asked what kind of advice would I give to a 14-year-old girl who is showing an interest in neuroscience, taking AP classes, and has articulated an interest in science. As the “1″ in the title indicates, I’ll be posting again on this topic. I’m going to preface my remarks by saying that I don’t have the last word on this topic, and I’m going to invite all my colleagues in WEPAN to weigh in on this if they want to. WEPAN is the Women in Engineering Programs and Advocates Network; it’s a national organization whose mission is “to be a catalyst, advocate, and leading resource for institutional and national change that will result in the full participation of women in engineering”.
When I was at Kansas State University, I had the good fortune to work with some very wonderful people in establishing the GROW Project for middle school girls. On the GROW (Girls Researching Our World) webpage, there is a link for parents. Under the Publications link, there is also a downloadable pdf pamphlet with tips and lists of websites; you can print this out and share it with other parents. There are many other links to sites that provide resources and information for parents who wish to encourage young girls in STEM careers. One that may be of particular interest is Dads & Daughters.
The Engineer’s Week “Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day” site may have some useful information. I like the link for The Creative Engineer. Case studies are presented that
are organized around eight themes that suggest some of the elements of creativity — by no means the only ones — in engineering and in other areas of life. These themes are: challenging, connecting, visualizing, collaborating, harmonizing, improvising, reorienting, and synthesizing.
(The “connecting” case study deals with tissue engineering and may interest your daughter, Jeff.)
Beyond these web resources, here are a few off the cuff tips:
- Hands-on Skills
- Teach her to use simple hand tools.
- Encourage her to take things apart and put them back together. Buy some small appliances at a second-hand shop (blow-dyers, toasters, what-have-you) if neither you nor your daughter want to sacrifice the household stuff on the first try.
- Find out if she can job-shadow someone for a day at a computer-repair shop. You’ll want to make sure they are welcoming to young women and make sure they understand that this is supposed to be positive learning experience, but if they are willing to let her job shadow, hopefully they’ll get those points.
I make these points because one thing that young women usually lack at the college level is experience in hands-on work. Boys are more likely to have spent time working with tools, tinkering around with things, taking something apart for the heck of it. Even if these skills end up being completely unimportant in a given career, possession of them – or not – is often used as one marker that separates the men from the boys. And women already aren’t boys, so they need all the skills they can get to keep up with the silly bragging rights games that boys will play.
- Working With Guidance Counselors and Teachers
- Make sure your daughter does not get shepherded into easier science classes and away from advanced math classes as she enters junior and senior year of high school.
- Keep in mind that some guidance counselors are not themselves aware of the college requirements for many STEM careers.
- Be an involved parent at your daughter’s school; know how your daughter’s teachers teach.
- If you daughter is being made to feel unwelcome or is not being given attention in a math or science class, make a complaint to the school. If possible, switch her to a different class. If not, and if you can afford it, get a tutor.
- If your daughter has gotten a lousy deal in high school and is ill-prepared for math and science at the college level, consider having her take a few courses at a local community college. There are often really wonderful teachers at CC’s. Gaining a surer foothold and taking a little longer is much preferable to jumping right into the university pool and sinking.