By Ariel Graham
Exxon Mobile aimed to interest girls in engineering careers during their annual Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day presented at the Irving Convention Center on Tuesday, Feb. 20.
About 50 middle school girls from all across Dallas/Fort Worth were invited to spend the day learning about women working in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. After a few presentations from the Perot Museum and Exxon Mobile, the girls tried their hand at engineering with two activities. First, the girls were asked to construct a roller coaster for a marble from file folders and duct tape. They challenged one another to see who could make the longest track and keep the marble rolling the longest distance. Second, the girls were also tasked with creating a marshmallow catapult and competed to see who could launch their marshmallows the farthest.
The DFW group is just one of many groups across the country taking part in the event, and to date, over 14,000 students have participated in the program since it began in 2003.
Kani Udoh, an engineer with Exxon Mobile, works in cash management operations. She spoke with the girls about her experiences and some of the challenges she faced as a woman in engineering.
“I’ve been sitting with a few of the students and the questions they’ve been asking are some of the questions that I want young girls to be asking,” Udoh said. “[They ask] questions like, ‘How long does it take to do this? Was it hard?’ I want to let them know that, yes, it was hard, but you can push through it. You can do it, and once you get to the other side of if, it’s so fulfilling.”
In her discussions with the girls, Udoh did not shy away from the difficulties of pursuing a career in her field, and encouraged the girls to work through those difficult moments and not give up.
“I think [one of the struggles] is just not knowing where to go or how to navigate it, or thinking that I had to know exactly where I was headed from the beginning,” Udoh said. “When you hit those challenges, you think ‘Oh, that’s it. That’s the one that’s going to knock me out.’ That’s why I’ve been focusing a lot on telling these girls that yes, it will get hard, but there is a lot of help. Seek out that help and push through it and keep going.”
Kadynce Crenshaw, an 8th grader at Bowman Middle School in Plano, Texas, experienced her first Engineering Day. She is eager to put what she learned into practice as she wants to pursue a career with the FBI and forensic sciences. Crenshaw wants to help break the stereotype that only men pursue careers in science and engineering.
“Everybody thinks girls just like shopping and pink, and we’re not really the sportsy type and we’re just really girly,” Crenshaw said. “But there are a lot of other girls who really like this stuff. We can prove something to the guys and say, ‘We do the same thing as you, you can’t just say this is a guys’ thing. Us girls do it too.’”
According to a report from the National Science Foundation, women currently represent over 50 percent of the country’s workforce. However, they hold less than 20 percent of available engineering jobs. Udoh said in order to get more women in those crucial fields, it is important to encourage girls with events such as these, and to continue encouraging them throughout their career studies.
“It’s about problem solving,” Udoh said. “It’s about being creative. It’s about thinking outside the box, which they already do. And they identify with that, and then we say, ‘That’s what an engineer is.’ I think that’s part of why starting them young and sticking with them throughout as they go through their studies and encouraging them as it gets harder is what we’re going to need to keep doing.”