Girls in engineering

Posted: July 18, 2012 - 1:55pm | Y-12 Report | Volume 9, Issue 1 | 2012

Students in engineering

In February President Obama announced that the administration and private sector are dedicating more than $100 million in commitments and key steps to prepare 100,000 new science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, teachers — and to meet the urgent need to train one million additional STEM graduates — over the next decade.

“When students excel in math and science, they help America compete for the jobs and industries of the future.” President Barack Obama, February 2012

Y‑12 knows the need firsthand. The future of the Y‑12 Complex depends on having individuals who can withstand the rigors of national security work and tackle technological conundrums. Compounding the challenge: Females are underrepresented in engineering. Of the undergraduate degrees that engineering schools awarded in 2009, only 17.8 percent went to women, a 15-year low, reported the American Society of Engineering Education.

Coincidentally, Y‑12 held an inaugural event — Introduce a Girl to Engineering — as part of February's National Engineers Week activities. More than 370 girls in grades 9 through 12 from 13 area schools got a snapshot of engineering's advantages. “We want you to leave here excited about engineering,” said Renee McGhee, manager of Y‑12's Engineer Rotation & Development Program.

Any success? “Next year I bet we'll have kids fighting to come on this trip,” declared guidance counselor Karen Payne.

Speakers and exhibitors, from Y‑12 and elsewhere, highlighted everything from high school coursework to college planning to compensation. About 50 Y‑12 women engineers from various disciplines guided demonstrations and answered questions. “Y‑12's science and technology provides ideal opportunities for exploring careers,” said mechanical engineer Donna Bennett. “One comment, poster or person can help direct someone's future.”

Among the exhibits, students learned about industrial engineering through making jewelry and about polymer engineering through creating Gak, or silly putty. Surrogate-material activities showed how simulations are used in designing equipment and processes. A rural-school librarian said, “Exposure to engineering opportunities is very big for our kids. They don't really know what all's out there.”

“Cool!” and “Awesome!” echoed along the corridors. Tori Richey, whose father, Tom, is an Engineering manager, said, “Dad talks to me about engineering all the time, but until today I haven't been interested.”

People were soon into 2013. “We'll be back with two tables next year,” said University of Tennessee representative Travis Griffin.

“Our students were talking about it nonstop to our teachers,” one visitor wrote afterward, adding that their school could “easily” send as many as 225 students next year. Another noted, “A few told us this was the best field trip they'd ever been on!”

Visitors weren't alone in their praise. The students “were so friendly and so interested,” said mechanical engineer Carolyn Fogelman. “We really enjoyed them.”

And for anyone who sometimes wonders what the world is coming to, Y‑12 is here to tell you, whatever the world is coming to, it'll be in good hands.