Engineering

Girls Are Picking Up STEAM

Did you celebrate Pi Day on March 14?  My family sure did, but we are totally geeky like that.  Judging from my Facebook News Feed that day, I have a whole bunch of nerdy friends too.

Pi Day is celebrated by math fans the world over because the numerical representation of the day—3.14—is pi.  This year, March 14, 2015 was declared the Pi Day of the Century because when you add the year, you get 3.14.15 or the first five digits of pi.  Isn’t that cool?

Pi is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter.  It is very useful in mathy things like finding the circumference or area of a circle.  Engineers use it any time they are working with circles or building things with cylinders, like engines.  NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory put together this cool infographic talking about how they use pi in building and maintaining spacecraft and measuring planets.  Pi is awesome.

We marked the day at my house by eating round cinnamon rolls for breakfast, debating who knows the most digits of pi, and having a pizza pi for lunch.  We wrapped up the day by wishing each other a Happy Pi Day on 3.14.15 at 9:26:53 pm.  By the way, this English major always loses the pi debate, but then again, I am competing against two junior math fiends and a Georgia Tech electrical engineer.  I am going to need to up my game.

Right now in education, everyone is talking about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) or STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math).  These disciplines are the future in our information-based economy.  Schools are implementing STEM programs from early elementary school through high school to expose students to the STEM disciplines and encourage them to continue in these fields for their college studies.

STEM careers are often in innovative industries and pay better than your average job.  Most of these careers require at least a bachelor’s degree.  The earlier we can get kids interested in these fields, the better.

Last summer my son attended a fantastic camp at Georgia Tech as part of their CEISMC Summer Programs. He has always been interested in robots and building things, so we signed him up for the Artbotics program—a camp that is all about STEAM.

The kids studied the Disney Imagineers and used the “brains” and motors from Lego Mindstorm robots to make their own animatronics.  They used squishy circuits to “wire” the backs of their projects for lights, sound and other cool effects.  (If you do not know about squishy circuits, you need to watch this TED Talk. They are super fun.)  The kids worked in teams of two or three all week, and on the last day, they held a presentation for parents to see their work.

The amazing projects the elementary age kids built that week blew me away.  They painted scenes on sturdy foam board and made elements of their scenes move.  There was a poster with an astronaut on a spacewalk, one of a garden scene with floating butterflies and twinkling fireflies, and another of a reenactment of a World War II battle in the Pacific.  The kids were very proud of their projects, and I enjoyed listening to them tell about their ideas.

Out of about 20 kids in the camp session my son attended, only four or five of them were girls.  We do not always think about signing up our girls for robotics camp, but these girls had a blast that week.  I loved the animatronics take on robots, and the art component seemed to make it more “girl friendly.”  It would be great to see more girls taking advantage of these kinds of programs.

Women are underrepresented in STEM careers, and that is unfortunate.  According to the U.S. Department of Commerce report, “Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation,” women hold less than 25 percent of jobs in the STEM fields even though women make up half of the U.S. workforce.  STEM jobs pay women 33 percent more than non-STEM jobs, but women are earning STEM college degrees at a much lower rate than men are.

We need to do something about that, and it starts with encouraging our girls to study science, technology, engineering, and math as early as possible.

Georgia mamas, I challenge you to find a way to work STEM and STEAM into your daughters’ interests and passions.  I will commit to doing the same.  Talk to your school and find out how they are using STEAM in the classroom.  Look for opportunities in your community for camps and activities that promote STEAM.  Find online resources for your kids to explore STEAM at home.

Let’s help our girls discover the power of STEAM.

 

Karla Jacobs is a member of the Georgia Commission on Women.  She lives in Marietta with her husband, two kids, a dog, and some fish.

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