Future looking brighter for women engineers

Women have been making their mark in formerly male-dominated careers over the last few years, although engineering has remained one field where they are underrepresented.

A recent report from the Congressional Joint Economic Committee found that female engineers represent only about 14 percent of the engineering workforce.

Goldieblox, a toy company aiming to inspire the next generation of female engineers, is working to change that statistic. The start-up attracted a lot of attention at the end of 2013 with a viral ad depicting young girls building instead of playing with dolls. The company made Super Bowl history, becoming the first small business to have a commercial air during the game after winning a contest run by Intuit.

The ad has sparked a larger conversation that has resonated with parents like Heather Devaughn. She sends her five-year-old daughter Allison to BASIS Tucson, a charter school known for its rigorous curriculum and hands on programs.

“The major difference with BASIS is the style of teaching, they hire content experts to teach their classes and that keeps the kids engaged,” Devaughn said.

Devaughn said she sees major changes with her young daughter, who has a growing interest in math and science. She noticed Allison has been interested in playing with different toys.

“She likes anything lego type where she is building or constructing something, she doesn’t do dolls,” Devaughn said.

According to a study published in the October 2013 issue of the American Educational Research Journal, research shows the earlier children are exposed to science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM), the more likely they are to go into those fields as adults.

Dr. Mary Poulton, Head of the UA Department of Mining and Geological Engineering got hooked on science early, and it was reflected through the toys she chose to play with as a child.

“I always had blocks and tools to take things apart with, so I had a preparation to go into Engineering,” Poulton said.

Poulton, the first and only woman in her department, said gender roles in toys have to go.

“I think it does a disservice to both girls and boys to have that gender identity in toys at such a young age. The more that you can expose young girls to same sorts of toys that give you a sense of the physical world, the better,” Poulton said.

Sandra Gonzalez, a UA Biomedical Engineering Senior, said she rarely played with classic toys designed for young girls.

Sandra Gonzalez, a senior studying biomedical engineering at the University of Arizona, works in a lab at University Medical Center in Tucson, Ariz.
Sandra Gonzalez, a senior studying biomedical engineering at the University of Arizona, works in a lab at University Medical Center in Tucson, Ariz. Photo by Sami-Jo Roth / Arizona Cat’s Eye

“I would definitely say that I loved legos, just that fact that you could build something,” Gonzalez said.

According to Gonzalez, about half of the students that work in her Contrast Agents Molecular Engineering Lab are women.

“I have noticed that, especially in the biological sciences not so much the engineering, it’s become very much female dominated,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez said having female role models has helped her throughout her time at the University of Arizona. Recently, Gonzalez was accepted to Georgia Tech for graduate school, a top ranked university for biomedical engineering. She said she couldn’t have done it without her mentors, and now she’s focusing on giving back.

“I really like talking to students especially younger students who don’t know a lot about research and science because I know that I didn’t and if it wasn’t for those people that helped me, I wouldn’t be where I am now.”

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