There’s something special happening inside Discovery World’s Rockwell Automation Lab this summer. LEGO Robot Engineer, one of our most popular programs for 3rd-5th grade students, has seen a recent explosion in popularity with female campers. Just last week, we witnessed 20 aspiring engineers constructing robots and beginning a hopeful lifelong love of science, technology, engineering, and math in our LEGO Robot Engineer JUST FOR GIRLS summer camp.
Throughout the camp, the aspiring engineers were continually inspired through both independent and collaborative learning. This variation in teaching style proved exciting for the girls, especially to those who were not always exposed to independent, hands-on problem-solving. One camper said that her favorite aspect of camp was getting “to discover stuff on your own. The teacher’s not telling you ‘you have to do this, you have to do that’.”
The girls’ excitement and creative problem-solving was evident when we sat down with instructor, Justin Schlidt. The girls huddled around their team’s robot, strategizing how to add complex sound sensors to their robots. They were focused and inquisitive, collaborating with one another and occasionally interrupting Justin with programming questions. “They are very into it,” Justin noted. “A lot of them have been working very hard and they get very excited when it works, which is cool to watch.”
Though it’s evident here that girls are interested and enthusiastic about robotics, the average gender distribution in our camps might suggest otherwise. Our LEGO Robotics camps are usually 80-90% boys, whereas our Fashion Design camps are sometimes 100% girls. These statistics are discouraging yet not surprising, as they reflect the gender disparities that exist in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields today.
Though women make up approximately 47% of the workforce, women are grossly underrepresented in STEM careers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 13% of mechanical engineers and 37% of chemists and material scientists are women.
Discovery World would like to change these statistics by increasing the amount of women in these careers by exposing them to STEM at an early age. An all-girls camp intentionally addresses the gender disparities of today and provides an encouraging space for girls to become exposed to STEM. As one camper put it, “At my school boys are always like, we can do it better than you because you’re just girls.” Free from this type of distraction, the girls have found it easier to share their ideas and discover a new world of robotics.
Our efforts to increase the number of girls and women pursuing STEM-related studies and careers are just beginning. Discovery World is honored to work alongside Rockwell Automation and area high schools to connect female engineers with young female campers and show them that these opportunities exist right in our own backyard.
“Everyone recognizes that there’s a problem with the lack of women in STEM,” said Discovery World President Joel Brennan. “But we go beyond recognizing there’s a problem and we do something about it.” He hopes that members of our community, our funders, and our partners will continue to support our efforts and increase the involvement of women in STEM careers.
LEGO Robot Engineer JUST FOR GIRLS helps to illustrate that there is a growing number of young girls interested in learning about science, technology, engineering, and math. It’s now up to us a community to offer them opportunities to excel so that they have the potential to create a professional world where men and women are more equally represented in all careers.