staff, July 10, 2015

Women have made great professional strides in the past few decades, to the point where they now comprise nearly half of the entire U.S. workforce and the majority of American college students. Still, when it comes to careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), they have a long way to go.

Today, women hold less than a quarter of all STEM jobs. Beth Holloway, director of the Women in Engineering Program and assistant dean of undergraduate education for the College of Engineering at Purdue University, is trying to change that.

Purdue_FYI2Tomorrow, Holloway and other Purdue engineering faculty and students will welcome approximately 100 girls for the third-annual Engineering FYI: For Your Imagination event at the university?s West Lafayette, Ind., campus. The event is tailored to students who have finished sixth, seventh and eighth grades because research says those are critical ages for maintaining their interest in STEM subjects.

?A big part of our mission in the Purdue Women in Engineering Program is to inspire and educate pre-college students about the limitless possibilities of STEM careers and options,? she said. ?Through the Engineering FYI program, we try to meet girls where they are, and show them where engineering works in their everyday lives and how they can use engineering to make a difference in their world.?

During the 2014 event, for example, participants used microprocessors to create cool LED lighting designs on a hat. That work connected students to the up-and-coming area of e-textiles, Holloway said.

?Participants will learn about how catalysts work in chemical engineering processes, and will use raspberry pi?s [small computers used to teach computer programming] to capture the creativity of code,? she said of this year?s event. ?They will be coding light sequences, art and games.?

[btn-post-package]But Engineering FYI is more than a day filled with science and technology demos and experiments. It gives attendees - both the girls and their parents - real-world examples of how STEM careers can be fulfilling, interesting and positively impact society. In addition to demonstrations, mentoring and hands-on activities, it will include a session specifically for parents on how to encourage and support their daughters? interest in pursuing STEM careers.

?One of the strongest points of the program, in my opinion, is our use of current engineering students as role models, facilitators and mentors,? Holloway said. ?We connect a current engineering student to a small group of participants, and they are together all day long. There is so much energy in the room - chatting, laughing with new friends about everything they saw and did, and who they met.?

As exciting as the day is for the students, it?s equally thrilling for Holloway.

?It is so energizing for us to see how the girls? eyes light up, how they are inspired and see more of what engineering really can be,? she said.

Perhaps nothing was more satisfying for Holloway than seeing her own daughter?s interest in engineering fostered through the program.

?She had needed some encouragement from me to attend, but after the event she was so excited about what she learned and all the inspiring girls she met,? she said. ?I think that was when she decided she really wanted to be an engineer - for herself and her own interests, not mine.?

By Betsy Piland