Women in STEM—or the lack thereof—is an increasingly prevalent topic in the news media. The statistics speak for themselves: Although women fill close to half of all jobs in the U.S. economy, they hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs. Not surprisingly, women also hold a disproportionately low share of STEM undergraduate degrees, particularly in engineering. For the past decade, Villanova University’s College of Engineering has demonstrated a commitment to reversing this trend.
In addition to female student enrollment and numbers of female faculty that exceed national averages, Villanova’s College of Engineering has successfully developed a number of STEM outreach programs to engage underrepresented students in these areas. One such program is Engineering is for Girls! Established in 2010 as an opportunity for local Girl Scouts, the event has expanded to include fourth–eighth grade girls from area schools. On March 25, the College hosted nearly 100 participants, led by 20 Villanova engineering student volunteers and a number of faculty members. Also on hand at this year’s event were three alumni who hope to expand the program’s reach to other communities.
Developed by Department Chair and Professor Amy Fleischer, PhD, the day included a variety of age-appropriate activities. Fourth- and fifth-graders learned about aerodynamics and made airplanes, discussed ride design and created marble roller coasters, and explored solar energy and built solar race cars. The older girls made and tested prosthetic legs, were taught material structures and did advanced microscopy, and learned about humanitarian engineering and designed gravity-fed water systems. Students were overheard saying, “I didn’t know that engineering was so creative!” and “How cool that engineers use origami—I LOVE origami!”
Dr. Fleischer’s passion for the program is evident: “It is so exciting to provide a chance for girls to get to meet other girls who love engineering and science, and to give them an opportunity to meet and interact with our students. They love talking with our students about their experiences. It is all about creating a supportive community.” To learn more about Dr. Fleischer’s commitment to women in STEM, view her Facebook Live interview with Mechanical Engineering junior Katie Scoboria.