When Katrina Vance was in junior high school, she never thought about a career in engineering.
"Girls were not as exposed to science and engineering, so they weren’t as aware of their possibilities for future careers," she said.
But thanks to an encouraging brother and Arizona State University’s branch of Women in Applied Science and Engineering, Vance is now pursuing her master’s degree in industrial engineering at ASU.
"I think that elementary schools are beginning to foster
girls’ interest in science, but it has only been a recent push," she said. "I think as more girls are exposed to science and engineering, they show more interest and therefore the schools start to foster their interest in those subjects."
Now, author Judith Love Cohen, who went from being the only girl in her junior high school math class to working for NASA, hopes to become a role model for other young girls who want to take a different path. She is the co-author and co-publisher of a series of books that encourages elementary school girls to consider careers in science and math.
The 11-book series features women in professions such as astronomer, architect, paleontologist, marine biologist and oceanographer. Cohen’s first book, 1991's "You Can Be a Woman Engineer," traces her arc from a girl who had never heard of female engineers to a woman who led a team of engineers on the design for NASA’s Hubble orbital telescope.
"Nationally, women only comprise approximately 6 to 8 percent of the engineering workforce and 20 percent of the engineering student population," said Shawna Fletcher, ASU’s student services coordinator for WISE. "Based on these statistics, it is important that girls are educated about career choices and encouraged to pursue science and engineering. Science and engineering degrees are in demand and companies are competing to recruit students with these educational backgrounds, especially women."
Cohen saw the need for the series of books after her husband, a teacher, asked his class what they wanted to be when they grew up.
"The boys wanted to do things that were all over the map: Doctor, lawyer, astronaut," Cohen said. "And my husband was shocked when the girls thought about it and finally came up with what we think of as the stereotypical answers: Te aching, nursing, secretary."
Fletcher said it’s important that books such as Cohen’s showcase role models that are examples girls can follow to break into different professions. She also said parents need to take an active role in finding opportunities for their daughters to explore different career paths.
"Encourage your daughters to be involved in science and engineering camps, science clubs and to attend local events that are educational," she said. "Many times, students and parents alike may be intimidated and think that they won’t enjoy engineering or that it’s too difficult. If girls display an aptitude for math and science, they need to be encouraged."
Summer science camps for girls
Here are some camps sponsored by Arizona State University’s Women in Applied Science and Engineering (WISE). For more information or to register for any of the camps on the ASU Main Campus in Tempe, call (480) 965-4665 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. June 16-20: DNA-TECHS2 Camp. Focuses on the field of bioengineering. For 10 th-, 11 th- and 12 th-grade students, $250. July 7-11: ROBOTS Camp (Researching Opportunities and Building Operations in Technology and Science). For 11 th- and 12 th-grade students. Students will work in teams to complete and present a weeklong engineering project in robotics and learn about various engineering fields. $500. July 14-18: WISE Teams camp. For seventh and eighth-grade students. Focuses on construction and engineering disciplines with an emphasis on computer technology. $90.
To buy the books
Judith Love Cohen’s books sell for $6 to $7. Some are available in Spanish. The books are available online at www.cascade pass.com or www.amazon.com and some science museum stores or by writing to Cascade Pass, 4223 Glencoe Ave., Suite C-105, Marina Del Rey, CA 90292.