June 22nd, 2016


I swayed zero 5th grade girls into engineering today

I was invited to come visit a summer camp sort of program for 5th-7th grade girls. There were eight of us women who were in engineering or science, and eight tables of girls, and every 10 minutes we switched and talked to a different group. They were pre-assigned to ask us questions about engineering.

Here's a composite of some of my table conversations.

Spacefem: Hey girls how are you doing? Having fun?

Girls: Yeah!

Spacefem: So I'm an avionics and electrical engineer. All the displays you see in the front of an airplane? I figure out how to make that work!

Girl 1: Oooh do you know my uncle? Dave Smith! He works at the same place you work.

Spacefem: Is he an engineer?

Girl 1: He makes the PARTS for the airplane.

Spacefem: That's, uh, not very specific... I don't know him, sorry, but there are 8,000 people who work at my company so it's hard to know everybody.

Girl 2: What about Bob... uh... I forget his last name! But he's my neighbor!

Spacefem: Sorry, no... do any of you have questions for me?

Girl 3: I do! How can I be a veterinarian?

Spacefem: That's not really... well, you'll have to learn a lot about science and biology and how bodies work. Do you like science?

Girl 3: I like science experiments. But I don't really care why they work.

Spacefem: Well veterinarians have to know why things happen so you'll know how to treat animals. And really, it's not that great a job if you LOVE animals, you know that right? It's not just playing with puppies all day? People only bring you their animals if they're sick. You don't see cute animals, you see animals throwing up on you or pooping everywhere.

Girl 4: I want to be a veterinarian too! But I heard you have to neuter dogs! And I've never even seen a naked boy before!

Girl 5: I've seen a naked boy!

(all girls ask me if I've seen a naked boy)

Spacefem: Um... did anyone have any more questions about electrical engineering?

Girl 6: Is there anything else you wanted to be when you were a kid?

Spacefem: Oh sure, lots of things, actually I had no idea what I wanted to be. I thought maybe an architect because I liked to draw pictures of buildings and things. But it turns out that's a really competitive field.

Girl 7: If you could change jobs what would you change to?

Spacefem: I don't know, I really like my job. Maybe I wouldn't make airplanes. Electrical engineers make lots of stuff, like medical devices, that's really popular, we make pacemakers for people to keep their hearts working. Or robot arms for people whose arms get cut off.

Girl 8: Do you cut people's arms off?

Spacefem: Um, no. I mean in accidents, people get hurt, we help them!

Girl 1: What part of the airplane do you make?

Spacefem: Well I don't make any part really, I draw pictures that tell technicians what to hook up. All those antennas you see, they have to go to the right radio.

Girl 2: I went on an airplane once! There was a storm and we got stuck in Orlando.

Facilitator lady: And... time to switch tables! Great job, hope everyone learned a lot from talking to the engineers!

Girl 8: Wait I didn't get to ask my question! Can I be a fashion designer engineer?

Spacefem: Sure.