GE Global Research recently hosted 30 middle schools students from the Niskayuna Engineering Institute for Young Women, a third-year program designed to encourage girls to explore careers in science and engineering. This also is the third year Sue Corah and I have co-led GRC’s day-long hands-on component of the program, which is co-sponsored with the Niskayuna Central School District.
As I listened to the panel of GE women interact with the students at the end of the day, I realized that everyone really has their own story of how they ended up in their career—from the writing major who is now a mechanical engineer and works on oil rigs, to the person who planned to be a doctor, right up to being accepted into medical school, and is now an intellectual property attorney. It’s programs like the Engineering Institute that expose young students to the wide variety of careers in science and technology that are so valuable, as these programs can open their minds to all the possibilities that are available to them.
Having the ability to get young people, especially girls, exposed to engineering, math, and science, as well as all of the career possibilities that can stem from those fields, is really impactful. It can help them decide to take some courses in high school that they may not otherwise have considered, and that may set in motion a future that includes where they will go to college and what they will choose as their major.
Programs like this also change how the girls think about the world around them and how they can make an immediate difference. As soon as the girls left, they were already trying to come up with new ways to improve their daily lives, including inventing a hand scanner that would save time in opening a locker so they could get to the lunch room quicker! And just like the doctor-turned-intellectual property attorney, one girl who was set on being a vet is now asking her parents all kind of questions to determine what kind of engineer she wants to be .. a situation that delights her Mom thanks to the bigger picture for herself and the world she now envisions.
When I was in middle school and high school, we didn’t have the opportunity to take summer engineering programs or spend a day at a large corporate research center, so it wasn’t always clear where subjects like math or science could lead you. I always loved math and biology and chemistry, but besides medicine or maybe working in a “lab,” I wasn’t sure what type of career opportunities were available in the sciences, and I had no idea what anyone did with a math degree, besides become a math teacher! That is why programs that we can support that show girls the diversity of career paths available from the foundation of science and math are so important.
Here’s a picture of our 2014 Niskayuna “steam rollers” – STEAM standing for Science Technology Engineering Art and Math.