Faire hopes to attract more women

May 15, 2013 8:23:19 PM PDT
This weekend the hugely popular Maker Faire in San Mateo is expected to attract tens of thousands of people. The faire is a wild gathering of intensely creative, do it yourselfers. But most of them are men. That's not really a big surprise when you consider very few women choose engineering as a career. That's why educators are trying to get young girls interested in the field early.

There is a climbing wall inside a San Jose garage. Computer engineers Laura Kassovic and Matt Baker built it, and use a computer to control LED lights that plot out which path to follow.

Kassovic says, "It's really something that came down to lack of space and us being engineers."

Kassovic and Baker are part of the "Maker Movement," a growing fascination with building things yourself. They'll show off their climbing wall at the annual Maker Faire in San Mateo. The Maker Faire attracted 100,000 people last year. At this year's event, Kassovic will stand out for more than just her climbing wall.

"I wish there were more female engineers," she said.

The Maker Faire is just one example of the gender divide in engineering. The Society of Women engineers said fewer than 18 percent of graduating engineers are women. Even fewer actually end up working in the field, just 13-percent. The creator of the Maker Faire wants to change that statistic.

Dale Doughtery is the CEO Maker Media. He says, "My goal is that people really crossover and try new things. We want to make everything kind of accessible so that you are not saying these are things that women do, these are things that men do. You want to get away from that and say, 'This is something that I like to do, so why not?'"

Research shows getting girls interested in science, technology, engineering and math while they are in middle school is key.

At the Castilleja School for girls in Palo Alto, six graders are building boxes and learning to use power tools.

"It's not about boxes and drills. It's about getting them to think spatially, and getting them to solve problems," said engineer Angi Chau, Ph.D. Chau heads up the Bourn Idea Lab.

"There's actually a lot of intricate problems you have to solve like, 'Wait, where should the hinge go? What side should it fit in? Which side of the box should open? How do all these pieces fit together?' And the more practice we give them, the more advantage these girls will gain," said Chau.

Teachers agree. Laura Thornburg brought her History class into the lab. "If they begin to think of themselves as capable, especially in an environment that's been traditionally male dominated, that they just feel more sure of themselves and more flexible thinkers across the board," she said.

For these girls, it's about thinking "outside" the box.

One student said, "It's really cool to have a hands-on project like this, where you are trying to build something with your hands."

Another added, "I think that this is showing that we have the same skills that men do, and this is in an opportunity for young women to learn, and do things that they are not expected to do."

Castilleja students will be at the Maker Faire showing off some of their other projects. The family friendly event is this Saturday.

Written and produced by Ken Miguel


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