Advancing the Image of Engineering One Audience at a Time

Sci Tech Girls Field Trip

Reuben H. Fleet Science Center ‘Sci Tech Girls’ Field Trip Dec 10th, 2011

      The Sci Tech girls – fourth to eighth grade girls from the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center after school program – came in for their first plant visit today to meet a few engineers and to learn a little more about engineering.  Thirty girls rolled out of the bus at a quarter till nine with three chaperones. Ten volunteers from our ‘Women in Engineering’ affinity group – closely associated with the Society of Women Engineers – welcomed them to our discussion, hands on activity, and tour. 

The girls were alert and attentive during our introductory ‘From Turbines to Facebook’ engine basics. They wanted to know how our company was founded, what our engines were doing in the various countries, how the parts came into the company to be manufactured, and what we were doing to support the green energy initiatives. If we didn’t have a preset schedule – including a tour and hands-on build a generator activity – we very well might have still been talking about electricity, blackouts, pumping stations, how fuel gets to the engines, and the power grid itself.

I’ve participated in quite a few youth based initiatives from our annual bring your child to work day to  other SWE K-12 outreach events. The youth always tend to enjoy the icebreakers, hands on activities and tours. But there was something very different about this set of very young girls – mostly under the age of 10 – that went beyond their high degree of being respectful and attentive. They had developed the art of asking questions. Good, open-ended questions, to probe the depths of what it is like to be an engineer.

The ability to ask questions is by definition key to the scientific mind. It is a key part of the art of discovery and crucial in problem solving. When I commented on how well the girls had asked questions, their education director credited this skill to training. They have the girls watch videos of scientists and engineers – from their Sci Tech blog – and have them practice asking questions. Their skills of scientific inquiry were definitely paying off. They had won the hearts of the volunteers as their young protegees asked questions about their jobs, what a typical day in the life of an engineer was, and how this fit into the world around us.  

By 1pm, our lively Q&A session with our engineering panel – representing manufacturing, design, and analysis – wrapped up. The students meticulously picked up their personal belongings cleaning up the area around them, expressed their sincere gratitude, and piled back onto the bus heading home to the science center.

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Video Anyone?

Video Interview of Female Engineers for the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center

The Reuben H. Fleet Science Center wants to video record interviews of female STEM role models for their SciTech Blog to help portray the variety of career choices in science and engineering available to girls and how what they are learning today can be applied to these jobs.  If you would like to show them just how cool your job is, how you became interested in the field and tell them a part of your real life and hobbies outside of work, Jacklyn Abbond is your point of contact.  The interviews are generally less than 8 minutes – they can record it for you or you can send in your own video.  The choice is yours. 

Calling on Ingenieras

If you are bilingual, they will do the interview in both English and Spanish.  Spread the word!  Make a difference. Show them how YOU make a difference in this world and improve people’s lives!

Target group: 9 – 13 year old girls.  The nonprofit after school program and resources were developed by our very own San Diego based Reuben H Fleet Science Center.  Jacklyn is also looking for companies who might like to host a weekend tour and hands-on technical learning activity.

Math Educator Conference

Greater San Diego Math Council (GSDMC) – Signing Up

The GSDMC Conference will be Feb 4th – 5th, 2012.  The organizers tell me the conference draws between 800 – 1000 participants – 1/3rd of which are pre-service teachers. They have several math-education key-note speakers and an entire extended focus section on STEM. The Why So Few? presentation seems like a natural fit.

A former educator – a father of three middle school daughters I met at one of the parents programs who just happens to work at the same company I do – recommended I check out this conference. I did. But a little late.  Their conference schedule was filled by August. I am now on the ‘cancellation’ list. Should a speaking slot become open for Saturday Feb 5th – I will be there.  Only time will tell.

Workplace Feedback

As part of preparing for the “Why So Few?” presentation at the SWE National Conference , I gave the presentation twice at work on Oct 5th & 6th through the employee affinity groups.  After the 60 minute session, I asked for essay style feedback.  This is what they said:

  • I wanted to hear the research and figure out ways I can improve the work environment. 
  • The bias group activity was very powerful.
  • The research and awareness of biases allows me to be better prepared in addressing workplace conversations.
  • More people need to become aware of the workplace biases and how institutions and individuals can take steps to reduce and remove them.
  • I will look to be more of a mentor for new women engineers.
  • I am more aware of the factors that can improve the working environment – environmental factors – that contribute to a woman’s sense of inclusion and satisfaction
  • I will push for more teamwork recognition – a value that is essential to a woman’s satisfaction and part of our values in action – yet may not be as widespread in the work place as it could be.
  • I like the part on likability vs competance.
  • I will acknowledge the importance of listening and applauding the work done to stay likable.
  • I appreciated the emphasis on having clubs and affinity groups to help women have a better sense of fit and acceptance
  • While this presentation is primarily for recruiters and managers, it made me more aware of my interactions with others. I will be more careful with how I talk with and interact with people and how I describe them.
  • I learned that most women are harder on themselves when competing against men. I thought it was just me!
  • I recommend this presentation because while the topics covered seemed like common sense, people generally don’t take the time to think about them directly.
  • I wanted up to date information on why there are so few women engineers.
  • I have a better awareness of the challenges women face in the workforce and feel better prepared how to handle them.
  • The presentation was full of data-based research on the reasons why engineering careers have not been popular with women
  • I really liked the research behind how parents portray engineering to their daughters and the mindset message
  • I think it is sad we have to try this hard to get females involved in STEM. Society is largely responsible for the situation more than anything else. What we can do is weak compared to mass media. Despite these facts, I think the research and effort in this area is needed. Hopefully, one day we will not need to ask “why so few?”
  • When coaching my children, I will use the material about steretotypes and growth mindset.
  • I will actively practice the important message of growth learning (vs static learners)
  • I really enjoyed the topic of growing knowledge and positive reinforcement that goals can be achievied
  • Appreciated the whole aspect of the growth model – rather than just being born with a set amount of intelligence.
  • My daughter wants to study engineering and am looking for female engineering mentors. I will use the material to foster STEM careers with girls I interact with.

Workplace Presentation

Director’s Quarterly Meeting – Nov 15th, 2011

Today, I delivered the presentation “Why So Few Women in Engineering? Change the Story!” during my Director’s 2-hr Quarterly meeting. There were 70 people in the room – a double bay auditorium with the middle folding partition wall removed – filled with 6 rows of 15 chairs theater style. The two rooms – connected to the same computer – projected from a ceiling mounted install on two separate screens. The dress was 70% blue jeans with a splattering of blue coveralls. No ties. A few heals; mine included.

The Quarterly consisted of a 60-min company-highlights video and director’s business update followed immediately by my 30-min presentation, then two 15-min overviews of 6 sigma project accomplishments*. Talking business always has the potential for droopy eyes especially after one hour in a dimmed room.  But the troops were alert as I stepped in to weave my way through the engineering messaging, tactfully breezing through stereotypes with an emphasis on workplace bias.  

As a presenter, you usually establish a visual connection with a few people in the audience in different locations. I found several nodding their heads as I presented the material – almost all of the handful of women in the room – and including a few of the men. It was a receptive audience.

The timing was very tight preventing any real opportunity for questions during the session. However after the meeting, many picked up the handouts of the WGBH, Engineer Your Life, and lesson’s learned I left on the built-in sink-cabinets-counter near the exit. Several even came up afterwards to discuss the materials – all from test. I gave one AAUW report away to a man whose niece was in college; he was going to talk with her about some of the exciting opportunities that engineering might offer after listening to the presentation. Another – a supervisor – was impressed with the Engineer Your Life handout which incorporated the essence of making engineering cool.  Then we chatted briefly about some of the successful young female engineers who rotated through the test cells under his watchful eyes.

Originally, to fit the bias test in, my goal was to strip down the presentation and only include the workplace biases. But after trying to make the material flow, I realized that it lacked purpose if I did not include the girls accomplishments and the engineering messaging especially to this broad mixed audience.  In mentioning my limited time dilemma with the director of human resources, she implored me to make sure I include the parent’s piece “you need to include the pipeline recruiting piece to help the parents”. In the end, with the feedback and warm reception I received, I’m glad I did.

Lesson’s learned:   To include the bias test to a general audience for 30 min, I either completely remove the stereotypes or ask for 40 minutes.  To remove the parent’s piece would only be appropriate for an executive audience – and only then if the timing was limited.  Even though the workplace bias messages can be tough to hear, the audience is receptive to hearing the research, building awareness, and advancing the engineering profession.  For more info, see the blog on workplace feedback or some of the parent feedback.

* Of Note: One of the accomplishments presented was the 6 sigma project that I just successfully finished the control phase as the Black Belt!  

Comments of Note: One of the managers presenting after me used the lead-in “I always liked the geeky guys, that’s one of the reason’s I became an engineer”. The director stated to the follow on presentors, “I don’t want to show any bias, you must present within your 15 min time slot”. And they did!

Director’s Invitation & Preparation for the Quarterly Meeting

Nov 9th – My Director has asked if I would like to present the “Why So Few?” to his directorate next week – on November 15th – 30 minutes during his 2-hr Quarterly meeting. Of course I said yes. This will be my first “mixed workplace” audience consisting of engineers, managers, technicians, and scientists from the development test, materials, new product introduction and product support groups.  He has 110 employees consisting of 60% test technicians, 40% engineers and scientists.  

I have a week to squeeze the presentation down. The prime theme opportunity is the workplace – workplace retention, workplace bias which is a perfect lead in to implicit bias. The sad part is I find myself having to cut out/down the engineering messaging piece and impacts of stereotypes – the pieces that parents and educators need. If I pull this off, it would be the first time I’ve included the implicit bias test within a mere 30 minutes.  Wonder how fast I can talk?!?

Update Nov 8th — The San Diego Computer-Using Educators (SDCUE) conference consisted of four rooms of vendor displays,  six 45 minute presentation tracks of 19 presentations/track. I had heard there were 90 educators in attendance – but I want to say there were more. The vendors were selling their wares from a 75 zoom projector microscope attracting educators to their display of the resting non-descript bugs sitting on a twig in a white paper coffee cup, plenty of software packages, and even the Science Fair folks and a team from the Ruben H Fleet Science Center advertising their afterschool events. Nothing else engineering related that I could see.   

My presentation was in a computer lab, with a computer and monitor on every desktop. With the short ceiling and free-standing projector screen squeezed in between the first row of desks and the chalk board, it was a little tough for the audience to look over their monitors to see the full screen.  The ten minutes between classes, was just enough time to hook up my laptop for the presentation. I followed a man speaking on emoting software. 

The class consisted of 20 people, mostly educators, 1 parent, 2 STEM education majors. One educator was an engineer turned educator :>. One was from the Ruben H Fleet Science Center who wanted to see what the Why So Few? presentation might have to offer.  Only one person in the audience had heard of/read the AAUW Report (hats off to the Ruben H Fleet education specialist). For the remainder of the class, 90% of the material was new.  

From the parents program feedback, and the handful of educators I had met in them, I had come to the general impression that educators were aware of some of the older pieces of research – like the stereotype threat that is at least 15 years old. But after this event, I have to recalibrate as I explained in much fuller detail the background the reasoning behind the research than planned. 

Lessons learned: the AAUW research material is still fresh, educators are eager to connect up with engineers who might want to visit and present to their class (great tie in for the SWE-SD Speakers Bureau), and the WGBH materials need help in getting the word out about their opportunities.

— Nov 4th —  Giving my first presentation to an educators conference – San Diego Computer-Using Educators – at Cal State San Marcos this Saturday Nov 5th, 2001.  The title is “Why So Few Girls in Engineering? Change the Stories!”.