U of T’s Engineering Outreach Office—Inspiring Girls to Pursue Careers in STEM

Engineers face real world challenges that are complex and profoundly impact virtually every setting and environment — research labs to boardrooms, remote areas to densely populated regions, classrooms to hospitals. Today, there are significantly fewer women than men in STEM areas of study. As of 2013, women accounted for just 11.7 per cent of all professional engineers in Canada. Growing numbers of female engineering students signal a promising future for gender balance in the profession. If we want the best and brightest minds in engineering to solve these real world problems, we need to look to the entire population. That’s why U of T’s Engineering Outreach Office is so important. It runs STEM programming specifically for girls. It’s vital for girls to see how they can excel in STEM subjects, to learn about the successful careers they can have in engineering, and to understand how their contributions can help the profession thrive.

Saturday, October 17 marked the kick-off of four consecutive Saturdays of STEM courses for girls—Go ENG Girl, which is organized in partnership with the Ontario Network of Women in Engineering (ONWiE), and Girls Jr. DEEP Saturdays.

Shaping a new generation of engineers

U of T Engineering’s Go ENG Girl, in its 11th year, welcomed 100 girls who participated in several workshops, which included completing a circuit to build an alarm system and learning about hydraulics to design a crane that lifts small objects. These design challenges encourage girls to pursue engineering as an area of study and a career. Go ENG Girl gives girls in grades seven to 10 the chance to explore opportunities in engineering through a number of hands-on activities.

Brigette, a grade nine participant, said “I’ve never worked with hydraulics before. I think engineering is a really cool subject… it makes a difference and I want to make a difference in the world.”

On October 24, the U of T Engineering Outreach Office held Girls’ Jr DEEP Saturdays, which introduced more than 70 girls in Grade three to eight to hands-on science and engineering activities, challenging labs and interactive lectures. They learned complex concepts in Biomedical Engineering, Civil Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Chemical Engineering, such as the cellular structure and identification of microorganisms; how to test chemical reactions; and designing novel structural prototypes.

“It’s a critical age. We decided to start the program in grade three because often students make decisions about their capabilities in math and science at an early age,” said Micah Stickel, U of T’s chair of first year engineering. “The Girls Jr DEEP program gives them that experience of what is possible in a tangible, hands-on way.”

Giving girls role models they can relate to

An all-female environment creates an inspiring, confidence-building atmosphere so girls can experience mentorship and see that engineering is a career where their accomplishments translate into real world effects.

One of the instructors, Clare Kim, a second-year Industrial Engineering student, said “When I was young, I didn’t have a female influence encouraging me to pursue STEM subjects. I would love to be that female role model for young girls because it strips away the intimidating academic perception of engineering. When a young girl looks at me, I want her to think ‘If she can do it, then I can do it.’ ”