Valerie Lehmann and Joyce Chung said something important is missing from the engineering program at their Rockville high school: girls.
Male students significantly outnumber female students, they say. The two rising sophomores at Col. Zadok Magruder High School have constructed a solution they hope will help bridge the gap.
Starting this fall, Valerie and Joyce will lead as co-presidents an after-school program for girls at Magruder called Young Women in Engineering.
The teens — both students in Magruder’s Academy of Engineering — said they hope to draw in about 10 female students this fall for the program, which Valerie said will include “a lot of hands-on activities.”
Valerie said a strength of their program is that they will mentor the participants as fellow girls of a similar age. A Magruder teacher will advise them. The teens also hope to invite real-world engineers to lend their experitise.
Joyce said they will “try to get [girls] interested and let everyone know that engineering is possible for girls and it’s actually really fun.” Another goal is to show how engineering can be used to help others, she said.
This past school year, Valerie and Joyce said, they were the only freshman girls in a handful of female students in their principles of engineering class that had 25 to 30 students.
Several of those girls don’t plan to continue in the engineering program, Valerie said.
Valerie said it’s “unfortunate” there aren’t more girls in her school’s program. She thinks her female peers are missing out on an interesting subject involving math, creativity and design. She thinks girls bring a different perspective to the field.
“I feel like a lot of females are daunted or afraid of getting into engineering,” she said.
She said some girls might feel like they have to prove themselves if they are in a class that is mostly guys or they might be intimidated by the math involved.
To recruit program participants, Joyce said, they are putting up fliers and posters around their school and emailing the area middle schools that feed into Magruder.
When school starts, they also plan to visit classrooms to get the word out, she said.
Amy Gensemer — supervisor of science, technology and engineering for Montgomery County Public Schools — said there is a disproportionate number of girls across the district’s nine high school engineering programs.
In the 2012-13 school year, she said, about 40.4 percent of the students in those Project Lead The Way programs were girls.
A county-level advisory board that includes industry and higher-education members will continue meeting this school year to discuss how to get students interested in engineering and keep them in the programs — a goal that will involve increasing female enrollment, Gensemer said.
Gensemer said she thinks there are “a whole number of factors” that contribute to girls not participating in engineering classes.
In part, engineering can be taught in a way that attracts boys more than girls when civil, electrical and manufacturing components are emphasized more than environmental and biomedical elements, she said.
John Hamman, Montgomery College’s dean of math and statistics, oversees the college’s Sonya Kovalevsky Program that encourages middle school girls to pursue science, technology, engineering and math.
Hamman said the program is working to locally address an issue that also appears on a national level.
He cited a recent University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee survey that found that women make up about 20 percent of the country’s college engineering graduates and 11 percent of practicing engineers.
Many math and science classrooms are designed with a “competitive approach,” he said, which he thinks appeals more to boys than girls. He said he’s glad to see more collaborative work taking place in the county school system and at the college.
“I think there is some cultural stigma that still exists about what girls and women do and what occupations they’re doing,” he said.