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2010 October 11

Expanding Your Horizons

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On Saturday 9 Oct 2010, UCSC had their 10th annual Expanding Your Horizons conference to interest high-school girls in math and science.  (I mentioned it briefly in a previous blog post.) This year they had Danielle Feinberg of Pixar Animation Studios as their keynote speaker: “To Infinity and Beyond! The Math and Science Behind Movie Making.” Most of the day, though was spent on hands-on workshops doing things like extracting chemicals from marine sponges, or doing the DNA manipulations needed for forensic identification of human DNA.  The Santa Cruz Sentinel published a decent article on the conference (written by Alia Wilson).

Although only about 200 girls are directly involved in an event like this, I think that hands-on workshops (whether one-day or all summer) are far more likely to produce future scientists and engineers than TV shows (like Nerd Girls) or  web sites (like Dot Divas).

I remember one time a number of engineering faculty discussing what outreach events had been most effective in getting them into engineering, and NSF high-school science and math programs came up as being really memorable. I’ve not heard much recently about NSF high-school outreach, are they still doing it?  I, myself, went to a weekly abstract-algebra program that lasted for a few months (that would have been around 1970).   I still have the copy of Polya’s How To Solve It that I got as part of that program, though the textbook on rings, fields, and ideals has long been gone and forgotten.

2010 August 30

Science conference for high-school girls

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On Saturday 9 Oct 2010, UCSC is hosting a science conference for high-school girls from the Monterey Bay Area.

Danielle Feinberg, director of photography at Pixar Animation Studios, will give a keynote talk: “To Infinity and Beyond! The Math and Science Behind Movie Making.”  There will also be a hands-on workshop.

This sort of outreach seems more likely to be helpful in creating more female engineers than efforts like Nerd Girls, which I’ve posted about before.

2010 July 21

Nerd Girls

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There is a new TV show coming with the goal of enticing women into engineering.  The IEEE’s online magazine Today’s Engineer has an excellent article about the Nerd Girls genesis at Tufts University, lead by Professor Karen Panetta.  I’m not sure that Nerd Girls is the best name for the show, but I’ll withhold judgment on that until the show has run for a while—it could catch on, though I believe that currently “geek” is more chic than “nerd”.

The Nerd Girls project that Dr. Panetta has been running sounds like a good senior-design capstone course, and she has apparently been successful in getting the women who take her course to continue in engineering—something that has not been accomplished well in other programs.

From the Nerd Girls website:

The first Nerd Girls Club by Dr. Karen Panetta, a professor at Tufts University, to empower her female engineering students and challenge the stereotypes and myths about women in engineering. While considered a maverick for starting Nerd Girls, Dr. Panetta has been instrumental in shifting attitudes about women engineers. Panetta has partnered with documentary filmmakers Paola di Florio and Karen Johnson to extend the reach of Nerd Girls utilizing film, television and web media.

They have a video, but it seems to be as much about showing off how good they look as about being female engineers.  I would have been a bit more impressed by the video if it had included a few less glamorous engineers and spent a bit more time on the content of the student projects. I suppose that if their goal was to make engineering look sexy, they had to conform to current social norms about what else is sexy.

If the TV show casts women who look like those in the casting call, I suspect that their main viewership will be  male engineering students (and older male engineers).  I wonder what followup they plan to find out whether their viewers are male or female, and how many women they convince to go into or stay in engineering.  Still, the show sounds like a more realistic show than a current geek favorite, Mythbusters, whose premise seems to be that science and engineering is about making things blow up.

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