In an effort to narrow the gender gap in the field of engineering, a Massachusetts university recently hosted a workshop for local Girl Scouts where the youngsters were encouraged to design, engineer and build wearable, electronic, programmable light-up jewelry.
“Our main goal was to attract the girls to engineering by making sure they had a lot of fun learning about it,” said Paula Rees, director of the Diversity Programs Office at UMass Amherst’s College of Engineering.
Recent statistics show that only 14% of engineers in the U.S. are woman, an improvement from the early 1980s when the number was a scant 5.8%. Right now, about one in five engineering students is female, but 20% is still abysmally low.
From an early age, girls are typically encouraged to go into the humanities, while boys are encouraged to pursue computer science, mathematics and engineering. Young women often lack female role models who can motivate and encourage them to take a closer look at traditionally male-dominated fields.
This is why the UMass Amherst College of Engineering invited the local Girl Scouts to attend a 5.5-hour “Adafruit Workshop,” featuring the super-cool miniaturized electronic components that would allow them to make necklaces or earrings that could be programmed to light up in different colors and patterns. As they created their high-tech jewelry masterpieces, the girls learned about the basics of engineering and got to meet young women working toward their bachelor’s degrees in a variety of engineering disciplines.
“The focus of the day was to learn the basics of soldering and programming while making a really cool project to take home, to keep or to give away as a gift,” said Rees.
The middle school and high school girls used two technologies: Adafruit Gemma, a miniature circuit board; and NeoPixel rings, which consists of 16 LEDs that can be programmed to make any color by mixing red, green and blue light.
“The purpose is to inspire girls about engineering at an early age,” said Rees. “We want to create a pipeline of young women into engineering.”
Images: Jewelry and technical component photos via Adafruit.com; Girl Scout photos via Facebook/GirlScoutsUSA; Engineer photo via BigStockPhoto.com