Around 250 middle school girls recently came to UConn for Multiply Your Options, a conference that introduces them to engineering concepts and careers.
The conference brings together girls with an interest in science, technology, engineering and math (the STEM fields) with women who can help them accomplish their goals. The eighth-graders work side-by-side with female undergraduate engineering students – who had the same questions just a few years ago – and accomplished female engineers. Sally Reis, UConn vice provost for academic affairs, was the opening speaker for the event.
“We have worked for many years with multiply your options and the School of Engineering to make engineering a more interesting and viable career for young women. UConn has the fastest growing percentage of women in engineering of any public engineering school in the country,” Reis said.
Reis has worked with engineering officials because many girls shy away from science careers even though they have an aptitude. The reasons are as varied as fear of peer criticism, societal pressure to select careers considered more feminine, or just lack of visible role models. Multiply Your Options seeks to combat bias and encourage girls to fulfill their potential by exposing them to women who are enjoying success in STEM careers.
“Eighth grade is a big year in their lives. They’re going to high school, picking their classes, and deciding who to interact with. We want to encourage them to be ambitious. To take a chemistry or physics or calculus course, even if it’s an elective. Then they’ve multiplied their options,” said Kevin McLaughlin, the Director of the Engineering Diversity and Outreach Center, which organizes Multiply Your Options.
McLaughlin said that it’s important to provide role models that are as close as possible to the eighth-grader’s age.
“We want to show them there are undergraduate and professional women in exciting STEM fields who are very successful. If you want them to envision something, there shouldn’t be a quantum leap in age,” he said.
The girls take part in a number of fun activities designed to encourage them to consider STEM careers and think scientifically, such as making a robotic hand out of straw. There’s also a portion where they guess the career of young professional women based on the tools they work with. After the girls leave, the undergraduate women have a social networking event with the professional engineers.
Multiply Your Options is part of a larger initiative at UConn Engineering to increase the involvement of women in STEM fields. The Engineering Alumni Office has sponsored four annual Women in Engineering events, and many of the undergraduates who participate in Multiply Your Options come from UConn’s Society of Women Engineers chapter. Many of the Society members who participate as undergraduates come back as young professionals. The conference also has a networking event for the undergraduate and professional women to connect. This effort has led to the record growth that Reis mentioned.
Click here to see a gallery of photos from the event.