by AMELIA WEDEMEYER
When you ask the girls of the Saint Stanislaus’ after school engineering club if they are intimidated by the outdated idea that engineering is more of a “boy thing,” prepare to be met with blank stares and the occasional look of disgust.
“That’s wrong!” decried fifth-grader Megan Costello, who added, “If someone says it’s a boys' thing, we can prove them wrong.”
Fourth-grade student Anna Piechowski agreed. “I think you should have the right to be able to do anything you want to do,” she said. “There shouldn’t be ‘boys only,’” chimed in fellow fourth-grader Sophia Nisbit.
In fact, there are about 22 girls compared to the 15 to 17 boys who show up to the twice-weekly engineering club. This statistic comes as no surprise to the club’s advisor, Winona Area Catholic School math teacher David Jewison. “Originally, I would have been [surprised], but once I saw the girls’ desire to explore, it was not surprising,” he said. This semester the engineering club is divided by gender; boys meet after school on Tuesday and Thursday, while the girls take Wednesday and Friday. “I like working with girls better,” Megan said. Added Natalya, “The boys are a lot more wild. It’s easier to focus when it’s just girls.” Both groups meet for an hour-and-a-half after class, although at Wednesday’s session it lasted for as long as the girls were able to convince Jewison to let them complete their projects. “It’s just really fun,” Natalya explained. “You get to do a lot of things.”
Over the course of the current semester the students have worked with tools to wire an electrical circuit, completed a litany of fun engineering challenges and started work in computer programming. At Wednesday’s session the girls were focused on nine different challenges that involved controlling a marble on a track, which they made themselves. “You can tell when someone gets past a level — there’s screaming,” Sophia explained.
An overall sense of fearlessness was palpable throughout the various rooms as the girls took to their projects, determined to set the record in each of the nine challenges.
“At first I didn’t really want to do engineering club,” Anna said, before adding, “but once I got into it, I succeeded with it.”
Girls in engineering
“I’ve read and seen studies that say if you [don’t reach] girls by the time they’re in middle school, they lose interest [in engineering],” Jewison explained, “and you don’t get it back.”
According to a 2012 study from the National Science Board, men heavily outnumbered the number of women who earn bachelor’s degrees in engineering (82 percent compared to 18 percent), computer science (82 percent compared to 18 percent) and physics (81 percent compared to 19 percent).
While college is years away, many of the girls in the engineering club don’t know if they will pursue a degree in engineering or a related field, but they do intend to sign up for engineering club next year. “I want to encourage other girls to [join],” Natalya said.
“I’m happy I joined,” Sophia explained. “Normally when I get home from school I hang out and watch TV, but here, I learn things.”