In the last decade, there has been a proliferation of STEM-related camps targeted for girls only. The national Women in Engineering organization, for example, hosts Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day along with several other programs on college campuses. This camp held in a suburb of Chicago focuses on manufacturing, a highly technical field where only about a quarter of the 11.7 M workers are women:
Gadget Camp, sponsored in part by a foundation affiliated with the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association, which provided financing to nine other camps this summer, is intended to help over the long haul by exposing girls to an occupation they might previously have considered unappealing, if they considered it at all. . . . the image of manufacturing as an occupation of the future has been tarnished by the exodus of factory jobs to foreign sites and the use of machinery to replace workers. Younger people, especially, see more alluring opportunities in digital technology, finance or health care. . . .
Across the country, a handful of companies, nonprofit groups, public educational agencies and even science museums are trying to make manufacturing seem, well, fun. Focusing mainly on children aged 10 to 17, organizations including the Da Vinci Science Center in Allentown, Pa.; and Stihl, a maker of chain saws and other outdoor power equipment in Virginia Beach, Va., run camps that let students operate basic machinery, meet workers and make things. Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs, the foundation that helped sponsor the Gadget camp in River Grove, has awarded $2,500 grants to 112 manufacturing-themed camps — most of them for boys and girls — around the country since 2004.
Impressions also persist that manufacturing is a man’s job. Technical fields in general, and those that require scientific or mathematical backgrounds, are indeed dominated by men. Yet a Commerce Department report released early this month showed that women in such fields earn 33 percent more, on average, than women working outside of scientific and technical fields, a higher premium than men enjoy in similar occupations.
What I find exciting about these programs is that they are introducing girls to these fields as early as 3rd grade. Starting at these early ages helps to redefine the opportunities that are available to girls as they grow into middle school and high school. In most cases, the coursework during middle school and high school establishes the trajectory for college and career. Kudos to these programs for sharing with girls those opportunities that they may never have considered otherwise.
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