Filling the Stem Gap for Girls: Visibility, Outreach, Connection

The Allen E. Paulson College of Engineering and Computing is focusing on  initiatives to encourage young women’s interest in STEM opportunities. STEM integrates four specific disciplines — science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Celine Manoosingh, Ph.D, is an assistant professor in the Department of Civil  Engineering and Construction. In the essay below, she explains why she champions diversity and inclusion in STEM.

In recent years, a national conversation has emerged about the low number of female STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) graduates and subsequent disparity in the STEM workforce. Statistics from the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics show women accounted for only 15 percent of all engineering bachelor’s degrees awarded in the U.S. four years ago.

Several months ago, I spoke to about 75 middle school girls about to enter ninth grade. I asked the girls to close their eyes and shout out the first thing that came to mind when they hear someone say the word “engineer.” Answers varied between “train conductor,” “Mark Zuckerberg” and “computer nerd.” Joined by 12 members of the Society of Women Engineers of Georgia Southern, I asked how many thought that engineers could look like the students standing beside me. The silence was expected, but no less frustrating.

It has become clear through extensive research that a systemic approach involving K-12 education can result in more female STEM graduates. K-12 girls need to see women active in STEM careers to believe it’s achievable. Our College’s student organizations like the Society of Women Engineers and the Women in Construction and Civil Engineering student clubs are involved in campaigns of inclusion, outreach and continual contact with K-12 girls.

In the fall semester, these organizations hosted “LEAD: Women in STEM,” a conference to address this national conversation. Female students in STEM had the opportunity to meet with female leaders in industry and academia. Among the organizations represented were Gulfstream, Georgia Department of Transportation, Southern Company, the U.S. Air Force and Georgia Ports Authority. Companies like those that attended the event have realized the untapped potential of women in STEM. In partnership with Georgia Southern, they are providing research opportunities, internship programs and outreach events to create and maintain contact with our students. One of the best examples of the STEM campaign is our new mentoring program. It includes regular meetings, virtual chats and bi-monthly phone calls offering students ideas and insight plus practical advice for careers in STEM fields. Improved visibility, maintaining communication, and creating innovative ways to support females as they prepare to enter industry is the key to this effort.

Georgia Southern is a true advocate for girls as they consider education and careers in STEM. Significant science and technology advancements by female faculty, national student awards and opportunities for advancement and recognition provide a beacon for girls who will one day be leaders in their respective fields.

The future truly is female, and she wears Georgia Southern’s blue and gold.

– Celine Manoosingh, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Civil Engineering, Allen E. Paulson College of Engineering and Computing (Pictured in smaller photo, far left)