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Push for young women in technology, engineering continues

  • Michaela Sorrell (left) and Alana Persson (right) of Laconia High School play freeze tag with VEX robots at the first annual Girls Technology Day at NHTI; Thursday, March 14, 2013. The robots were equipped with sensors on the back of them that would freeze the robot when that sensor was hit, a second hit would unfreeze the robot.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH/ Monitor staff)

    Michaela Sorrell (left) and Alana Persson (right) of Laconia High School play freeze tag with VEX robots at the first annual Girls Technology Day at NHTI; Thursday, March 14, 2013. The robots were equipped with sensors on the back of them that would freeze the robot when that sensor was hit, a second hit would unfreeze the robot.

    (SAMANTHA GORESH/ Monitor staff)

  • Jayda Wentworth from the Manchester School of Technology holds up the Ethernet cable that she is making at the first annual Girls Technology Day at NHTI; Thursday, March 14, 2013.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH/ Monitor staff)

    Jayda Wentworth from the Manchester School of Technology holds up the Ethernet cable that she is making at the first annual Girls Technology Day at NHTI; Thursday, March 14, 2013.

    (SAMANTHA GORESH/ Monitor staff)

  • Miranda Frattallone (left) and Emily Edwards (right) from Nashua North High School play freeze tag with VEX robots at the first annual Girls Technology Day at NHTI; Thursday, March 14, 2013.The robots were equipped with sensors on the back of them that would freeze the robot when that sensor was hit, a second hit would unfreeze the robot.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH/ Monitor staff)

    Miranda Frattallone (left) and Emily Edwards (right) from Nashua North High School play freeze tag with VEX robots at the first annual Girls Technology Day at NHTI; Thursday, March 14, 2013.The robots were equipped with sensors on the back of them that would freeze the robot when that sensor was hit, a second hit would unfreeze the robot.

    (SAMANTHA GORESH/ Monitor staff)

  • Michaela Sorrell (left) and Alana Persson (right) of Laconia High School play freeze tag with VEX robots at the first annual Girls Technology Day at NHTI; Thursday, March 14, 2013. The robots were equipped with sensors on the back of them that would freeze the robot when that sensor was hit, a second hit would unfreeze the robot.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH/ Monitor staff)
  • Jayda Wentworth from the Manchester School of Technology holds up the Ethernet cable that she is making at the first annual Girls Technology Day at NHTI; Thursday, March 14, 2013.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH/ Monitor staff)
  • Miranda Frattallone (left) and Emily Edwards (right) from Nashua North High School play freeze tag with VEX robots at the first annual Girls Technology Day at NHTI; Thursday, March 14, 2013.The robots were equipped with sensors on the back of them that would freeze the robot when that sensor was hit, a second hit would unfreeze the robot.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH/ Monitor staff)

In engineering and technology programs from the University of New Hampshire to community college to high school classrooms, women’s representation usually hovers around 7 percent.

Right now, there are 1,000 unfilled programming jobs available in the state, with barely any applicants.

To Mary Laturnau, director of the IT and Manufacturing Partnership, which works in affiliation with the Department of Education’s Career Development Bureau, there’s an obvious solution.

“We want females to take the lead in that. So we figure we start early – eighth grade. It may take us a couple of years to get the pipeline going, but the pipeline is created,” she said.

The first step in creating that pipeline is letting young women know what career options are out there, and that they can succeed in them. That was the purpose of the first Girls’ Technology Day, held recently at NHTI in Concord. More than 175 girls from about eight schools spent the day getting hands-on experience with a number of tech-related fields, ranging from programming robots to building mobile applications to making models for 3D printing. They were all in eighth, ninth and 10th grades, the point where many young women choose not to move forward with technology, math and engineering education.

“There’s this moment between eighth grade and ninth, 10th grade, where the females just decide this is not for me for reasons that are not clear,” said Radim Bartos, chairman of the computer science department at UNH. “So somewhere in those years that you’re trying to address here, something happens that just makes computer science (and) engineering something that’s not attractive.”

In the crowd at NHTI, some of the girls came in with no desire to pursue careers in engineering and math, but left with a better understanding of what options are available and a potential future interest. Others chose to attend the conference specifically because they are interested in engineering and technology, either broadly or with a specific career in mind. Nearly all of them left with a greater understanding and belief that women are just as capable of working

and thriving in these fields as men are.

“They’re seeing strong female representation and learning that it’s a viable career,” Laturnau said.

‘They’ve already done it’

Braelyn Croteau, Alexis Gray and Maddie Osbon were the only girls in their introduction to engineering class last year at Somersworth High School, when they were freshmen. They were put in the class because they had a free block and were excelling in math, and all three ended up enjoying it.

Occasionally other students would ask them, “but you’re a girl, why are you in that class?” Osbon said.

But support from teachers and an interest in the material made the course worthwhile. Croteau and Gray are in engineering again this year, and Croteau is signed up for digital electronics for next year.

In their engineering classes, the three built robots, bird houses and freight elevators and learned how to use computer-aid design, or CAD, programs. Creating something from start to finish gave each of the girls a sense of accomplishment.

“I definitely did things I never thought I could,” Croteau said.

Beyond engineering, the three learned programming skills at NHTI. Kate McCaughey, a Microsoft employee, taught the girls how to build their own computer game through programming, something none of these three had ever done. Gray said she always thought programming meant complicated graphs and numbers, but building the game was nothing like that.

“It was fun to interact with it,” she said.

As sophomores, none of the three has quite figured out their careers yet, but technology and engineering are possibilities. Hearing about and learning from successful women in those fields inspired them to maintain their interest in those areas.

“It shows that it’s not that they’re just, like, trying to get women to do it, they’ve already done it,” Osbon said.

A clear direction

Aaliyah Bell, a 10th-grader from Keene, already has a clear vision for her career: She wants to be a machinist, inspired by her uncle who owns his own business in New York.

She’s the only girl in her woodworking and machine shop, but that doesn’t matter to her. In those classes, she’s already learned how to make a hand drill, machinist clamp and a hammer. Technology plays a role in that, because she uses computers to design and measure her materials.

“I have to learn how to make designs on the computer and make them come to life,” she said.

Eighth-grader Rebecca Hucksoll of Littleton also has her mind set on a career: architectural engineering.

“I’ve always been interested kind of in the way buildings were designed, and when I met my tech ed teacher he kind of jumped on that,” she said. “I started learning about how buildings were made and it just kind of grew from there.”

As a middle school student, she’s already pursuing outside options: She joined the Tech Student Association at her school about a year ago and has competed at the state level in competitions. The middle school club is split almost evenly between girls and boys, but more boys are members of the high school’s corresponding club, she said.

Hucksoll takes technology education at the middle school, and she will look into what engineering and drafting courses are available at the high school this summer. Trying 3D modeling was her favorite part of Thursday’s conference.

“I’ve always been interested in drafting and designing, but to see it on the computer and see your designs come alive, it’s really cool,” she said.

Expanding options

Kyleigh Smith, an eighth-grader from Bartlett, doesn’t consider herself a big science or technology person. But when the opportunity to learn more about the options in both fields came up, she seized it.

“My dad said if you get an opportunity to do something, you might as well do it and go for it and see if that interests you,” she said.

She left the NHTI event with a new interest in 3D printing and a greater knowledge of job opportunities in areas such as building mobile applications and games. When she enters high school next year, she may look into taking a technology course. She also learned that some barriers for women in technology have already been knocked down.

“There were barriers to get through and people didn’t really think girls could do it, but they can just as well as guys,” she said. “Not just in technology, but in everything. It’s nice to know that, that is an option – you can do all this stuff, there’s not really a barrier.”

For Jennifer Galbraith, a professor of mechanical and manufacturing engineering technology at NHTI, opening up young women’s eyes to the possibilities available to them is a big part of the battle. In her freshman class of 60 students, she has three girls. That’s about the same number of women who took engineering when she was in school, she said.

“We’ve gotta do something different,” she said. “We’ve got to create that connection, ’cause it’s not changing.”

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or
kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)

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