The Society of Women Engineers Convention is in Philadelphia this week. The annual conference is one of the largest of its kind for women in this broad and broadening field.
“I think anyone who’s creative, who loves to solve problems, and who wants to make a difference in the world would make a perfect engineer,” said Penny Wirsing, an environmental manager and a long time member of the Society of Women Engineers board member.
Wirsing will take part in a panel discussion about professional development during the convention. She says it’s best for girls to start early, to cultivate and maintain an interest in fundamentals like math.
Wirsing also acknowledged the stereotypical reaction to math and science.
“That it’s not necessarily fun — but we’re trying to change that conversation because there really is so much more to engineering,” Wirsing said.
“Honestly, there are a lot of professions that you need to be good at math and science,” she added. “But people tend to stereotype engineering with that, and so we’re really focusing on changing that perception.”
“Girls and boys in lower grades tend to do equally well in math and science,” Wirsing said. “But then, as they get older, girls tend to lose interest. It seems to be because there’s not that correlation between engineering and being able to really make a difference in the world.”
“The challenge is to help them understand engineering really is solving problems and changing the world.”
The Society of Women Engineers has a number of programs to help girls get more interested in the field. One of those programs — “Invent it, Build it” — will be presented at the society’s conference this week in Philadelphia. Wirsing said it will allow girls to get hands-on experience with experiments.
“We expect 500 girls in middle school and about 200 girls in high school, and they’ll be spending Saturday with hands-on experiments and surrounded by women engineers,” she said. “The girls have a chance to see what engineers do and really get excited about it.”
For more on what to expect at the conference, and the work the Society of Women Engineers does, listen to Morning Edition host Jennifer Lynn’s conversation with Penny Wirsing.