Engineering classes start early to interest girls in STEM at young age

STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering, Math

INDIANAPOLIS - In parts of Indiana, engineering classes start as early as kindergarten to get girls interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) early on.

It is not an easy feat -- less than 12 percent of all working engineers today are women, but experts at Purdue University hope to turn the dated social norm on its head.

Less than 23 percent of Purdue’s engineering undergraduates are women. That number is up from 17 percent five years ago.

Beth Holloway is at the center of the change. She is the director of the Women in Engineering program.

"My goal in life is to not have a job anymore, to not have to do this work anymore. We're a long way from there," Holloway said.

She takes engineering programs into elementary schools and invites middle and high school students from across the country to the university.

"Being exposed to the idea of engineering early makes it more normal so if they're continually exposed to it -- then it becomes like a profession, like teaching or medicine or all of those things they do see throughout their entire lives," Holloway said.

Officials with Carmel Clay Schools hope to attract young girls to the field even earlier.

An Advanced Placement physics class made up of mostly juniors is split evenly between boys and girls.

STEM is what drives Miriam Hu. She hopes the same is true for girls even younger.

"If they're finding themselves intimidated or just too scared to get started, you should absolutely take that first step. I think this generation is starting to break those barriers," Hu said.

"Having a female engineering teacher, a female science teacher -- we serve as role models for those girls," teacher Kimi Fellers said.

Back at Purdue, Holloway knows when it comes to changing who we imagine as the next generation of engineers, the buck doesn't stop with women.

"For there to be fewer social barriers, if you will, it's not just the girls who have to go up against them, it has to be the boys, the parents, society who are willing to knock them down so they don't exist anymore," Holloway said.

Another Indiana woman is targeting change with her children's book, "The Amazing Adventures of the Princess From Planet STEM."

After a successful Kickstarter program, Erin Albert said the book will be for sale this spring to interest girls as young as five.

Follow Beth Vaughn on Twitter: @bethvaughnrtv6 | Facebook: BethVaughnNews

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