STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) are largely growing fields, and something our children must learn in this ever progressing world of ours. But let’s face it- most kids find these subjects boring, or don’t know much about them at all. The Society of Women Engineers (which I’ll be referring to as SWE during this article) are working to change that. They are also contributing to putting a focus on the crossover between the arts and stem subjects and how they might complement one another, as this Kent State University infographic posits.
I talked with SWE member and Chemical Engineer Sarah Paine about the work she and fellow women engineers are doing to help develop a passion for the sciences in our younger generation.
Talking with Sarah, you quickly realize what a passion educating and inspiring our younger generation is for her. We discussed many different subjects, from what exactly SWE is, to ways to get children actively engaged and interested in the sciences, engineering in particular:
Could you give a short description on the Society for Women Engineers, and your involvement with them?
“SWE is an organization that supports women in engineering. It spans all ages: inspiring young girls to explore engineering, enabling exceptional young women through scholarships, and promoting networking and personal development in professional members.
I joined SWE my freshman year in college and have continued to participate as a professional. There’s something about engaging in a network of women within a male dominated industry that makes you feel encouraged and reminds you to value people’s differences. I hope to stay involved well into retirement.”
What is the SWE doing to attract kids to the sciences? What events have you put together personally?
“SWE is a conduit, helping to provide resources, ideas, and a network of volunteers that we can all leverage for outreach initiatives. They encourage collegiates to engage through the section awards and scholarships that value volunteerism and community engagement. And every year at conference they host an event with local girls called ‘Invent It, Build It’. And they do so much more – like create comics about an engineer heroine.
During college, I attended a National SWE conference in Orlando There was a session led by other SWE members that had organized an outreach event. They shared what they had done-what worked and what did not. I was inspired! I talked to my Dean as soon as I returned, recruited companies to sponsor, and Lamar University’s ‘Discover Engineering’ was born. Engineering companies and student clubs all ran their own tables of activities, scattered throughout the Spindletop Museum. Because it’s self-paced you find teenagers racing their creations against six year olds. You’d be surprised how well they hold their own! Since graduating, I stay involved in regular events that are organized through my company. For example, ‘Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day’ is quickly approaching! I’ve gone to Junior Achievement events, career days, and led activities in science classrooms. I’m also helping to organize a new collegiate STEM outreach competition within SWE.”
Why is it so important to interest kids in STEM?
“On a personal level, these jobs create economic opportunity. With a bachelor’s degree, someone can earn a sizable paycheck shortly after graduation. And since there is a strong demand for students to pursue these careers, there are many scholarships available, lowering the barrier to entry.
For women in particular, it’s important to break into these fields that are well-paying and male dominated. That’s how we reduce the wage gap. Diversity is also at the root of innovation. We need different ideas if we’re going to overcome the barriers of today and the problems of tomorrow.
Also, in my opinion, STEM is fun. And kids could use a little fun. It’s not always about college acceptance and resume building–sometimes it’s just making your own marshmallow launcher.”
Getting kids interested in STEM early is important, and SWE is determined to make it as fun and interesting for children as possible. Also, want to make your own marshmallow catapult? Buy the DIY kit here!