“My Daughter is an Engineer” brings girls, robots together

Most 10-year-old girls use Saturday afternoons for television and games with friends, but for 15 girls who spent this weekend at Cal State Long Beach, Saturday centered around control systems, robotics and engineering.

The annual “My Daughter is an Engineer” program brought girls from five local elementary schools to CSULB and put them through an intense three-day regimen meant to expose them to the engineering field, according to Lilly Gossage, co-director of the program.

“This is something we do over a weekend to facilitate the cultivation of young girls interested in engineering,” she said. “This is an effort that many women faculty, especially those in [the science, technology, engineering and math fields], should want to do because of the underrepresentation of women in engineering.”

Gossage said that about 10 percent of professional engineers are women and that gender-specific career stereotypes tend to discourage young girls from the engineering field. This, she said, compelled her and two other mechanical and aerospace engineering professors, Panadda Marayong and Bei Lu, to start the program.

Girls who participated in the program were selected from the top 10 percent of their class at their respective schools, according to Gossage. For three days, the girls stayed in Building M of Parkside College along with one parent and an educator from their school.

By the end of the experience, each girl, along with her parent, must finish a functioning robot that can navigate through an obstacle course, Gossage said.

While the program introduces girls to career paths they might not otherwise explore, Gossage said the real goal is to empower parents to support their daughters.

“The hope that we have is actually for the parents,” she said. “We know the girls are going to succeed. The program is meant to help build advocacy in the parents.”

The participating girls’s parents, such as Tracy Chambers, said the program was beneficial for both themselves and their daughters.

“Every girl has a parent here,” Chambers said. “My daughter’s only seven, and she’s having the time of her life. It’s been so fun. I really wish that I had got this as a girl.”

The student participants, including Mary Fehr, said they enjoyed the challenge.

“My favorite part [about the program] is that I got to make a robot,” Mary said, “but it’s hard because we had to switch the motor because it was in the wrong place.”

“My Daughter is an Engineer” relies on volunteers and is funded through donations from the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers Control System Society, an organization that funds encouraging the advancement for robotic technology, according to Gossage. The California Space Grant Consortium, a subdivision of NASA that focuses on engineering outreach, also contributes funding to the program.

The program has garnered attention from multiple media outlets, including Telemundo and ABC News. Data found through the program, which showed that the participants had increased awareness of engineering as a career option, will also be presented at the STEM Think Tank and Conference in Nashville, Tenn., later this month, Gossage said.

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