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Women in the U.S. earn half of the bachelor’s degrees, with only 18% in computer science and less than 20% in engineering. Roughly 18% of engineers in the country are female. “The world’s greatest challenges need new STEM ideas, and half of the world’s population—women and girls—are being discouraged from bringing their ideas to the table,” noted Julie Shannan, deputy director of Girlstart, an Austin, Texas-based non-profit that aims to encourage more interest among girls in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers.
Shannan gave an inspiring talk titled “More Ideas = More Solutions” at the DAC Pavilion on June 7 during the Design Automation Conference in Austin. Girlstart provides educational programs to girls, parents, and teachers, primarily in Texas. The organization also runs summer camps in regions and states including Silicon Valley, Seattle, and Chicago. According to Shannan, it’s all about rewarding risks, encouraging curiousity, and expecting creativity.
As the world continues to face huge global challenges in areas like food, energy, health, and security, “girls still perceive the scientist as a mad scientist. We need to change the face of STEM, we need to change the face of what scientists and engineers look like,” said Shannan.
It’s Not About Pink Robots
How does Girlstart inspire interest in STEM? “We don’t just take robots and paint them pink. I love pink, I’m not afraid to use it,” said Shannan. “But we’re actually doing the programming those robots need to do. Girls need to learn the coding, they need to learn the problem solving, they need to do real-life challenges. Our girls are doing that at Girlstart.”
The nonprofit operates under these guiding principles:
Shannan encouraged her presentation attendees to volunteer in schools and to share stories about why they do things, not what they do. Closing her talk, Shannan shared an invention from 10-year-old Missouri resident Jordan Reeves, who has limb difference. Jordan developed a prosthetic arm called Project Unicorn that blasts glitter from five different cannons and provides her with a new way to use her arm.
“I’m glad that Jordan is growing up in our world today,” said Shannan. “We need more girls like Jordan creating solutions.”