Friday, November 22, 2013

Engineering and STEM fields are for girls

For those who haven’t seen the latest video to go viral, here it is:
The media has gone wild over this fun and empowering video. The New York Times, The Huffington Post, The Ellen Show, and many others have been sharing the "Engineering is for Girls" message. I had planned another topic for today’s blog post, but shelved it for another day. After watching all the new hype, I felt a calling to jump on the band wagon and make yet another shout out for GoldieBlox by Debbie Sterling, as well as talk about girls in STEM fields. As some of you may know, my other role is as a toy inventor, having created award-winning toys for a major toy company in the girls and preschool departments. Play and toys are dear to my heart.

When I wrote my initial proposal for Women of Steel and Stone, one of my selling points was Architect Barbie and Computer Engineer Barbie need role models. I wrote,
"In 2011, Mattel announced the new Barbie for the “I Can Be…’ line--the Architect Barbie, dubbing it the “Career of the Year.” In 2010 half a million Barbie fans picked Computer Engineer as the new profession for Barbie. Female architects and engineers rejoiced to finally be getting the attention they deserve, but the role models for these young girls have been hidden from the public eye. Men dominate many lists of top architects and designers; one popular list has one female out of 100. Girls need to read about their role models in the architecture and engineering fields—their last role model was Mike Brady, the Brady Bunch dad! Girls see other professions on television or in life, i.e. doctors, teachers, lawyers, law enforcement, but they have no knowledge of what an engineer or architect does. There are over 900 million Barbies sold each year, 10% increase in sales last year. All these girls who have played with their architect or computer engineer Barbie will be looking for books to read about the architecture or engineering fields."

Here’s part of the Women Engineers Introduction in Women of Steel and Stone.
     "Before engineering was recognized as a formal profession, women with engineering skills turned to inventing. One of the earliest women inventors was Hypatia of Alexandria. In the early 15th century, Hypatia invented the hydrometer, an instrument used to measure the specific gravity of liquids, as well as several other scientific instruments. Englishwoman Sarah Guppy patented a design for safer suspension bridge foundations in 1811 and had 10 other patents. 
     In 1813, Tabitha Babbit, a Shaker woman from Massachusetts, invented the first circular saw after watching her brothers wasting energy with a two-man saw. She invented other items but her strong religious faith did not allow for her to apply for patents. The word “engineering” was first used in the 15th century as a military term to describe the creation of devices for war, such as launching projectiles. During the Renaissance, engineering took on a more civilian role and involved the construction of Italian canals, and roads and bridges in France; hence the creation of the civil engineer. Engineering began to be taught in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In 1747, The École National des Ponts et Chaussées (National School of Bridges and Roads) in France was created to teach military and civil engineering, which was modeled after the curriculum at the US West Point Military Academy created in 1802. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) introduced civil engineering in 1824. 
    In 1876, Elizabeth Bragg graduated from the University of California with a degree in civil engineering and became the first woman engineering graduate. In 1893, Bertha Lamme became the second woman engineering graduate with her degree in mechanical engineering from Ohio State University. As with architecture, engineers started societies to professionalize their practice. In 1880, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) was founded. Nora Stanton Blatch Barney was the first woman to become a junior member of the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1906, but it wasn’t until 1927 that Elsie Eaves became the first woman to achieve full membership rank. A rise in the number of women in engineering didn’t occur until World War II, when men went off to war and industries needed professionals to engineer planes, ships, and supplies for the war effort. Like Rosie the Riveter in the machine shops, women engineers were needed on the drafting tables." 

Debbie Sterling is quoted by Claire Cain Miller in the end of the November 20, 2013 The New York Times blog post, “It’s O.K. to be a princess,” she said, “We just think girls can build their own castles too.” 
That is so true-
Who built castles? – Julia Morgan
Who built bridges? – Emily Roebling
Who is building skyscrapers? – Aine Brazil

Let’s hear it for ALL our future builders!

Note: Debbie Sterling will be at the Women In Toys Breakfast at the Chicago Toy and Game Fair this weekend, so we will finally have a chance to meet. I’ll also be signing City Doodles – Chicago. I included several pages in the book about toys designed and developed in Chicago. Chicago is the Toy and Game Inventing Capital of the World.


Dorothy Patent said...

Great post, Anna--and I didn't know you're an inventor--that must be fun, to invent toys. I was a lucky girl whose interest in natural sciences was encouraged by my parents and who was never taught that boys were better than girls in any way, so I just 'did my own thing' and became a biologist.
Thanks for cheering on the next generation!

Unknown said...

Terrific post, Anna! My son (who is an engineer) married an engineer almost twenty years ago. My daughter-in-law had a number of bridesmaids (I can't remember how many) who were all mathematicians and engineers and all gorgeous. I had a fantasy of bringing them on to the Phil Donahue show and saying, this is what female mathematicians and engineers look like.

Elizabeth Rusch said...

Wow! Love this post and love the video. I was a girl interested in science from the get go and am thrilled to include women scientists and engineers in my books. But yes, we need more! And more science and engineering books and toys finding their way into the hands of both boys and girls. My daughter's favorite color is not pink but brown and she wants to be an architect when she grows up. Let the whole world be open to her and girls like her!