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Boosting girls’ interest in engineering

July 26, 2012
Seminar attendees will participate in high-energy activities to learn new ways to present challenging engineering concepts.

Seminar attendees will participate in high-energy activities to learn new ways to present challenging engineering concepts.

Engineers are some of the most highly paid and sought-after professionals in the workforce.

Yet only about 20 percent of bachelor’s degrees in math and engineering are earned by women, according to a recent study by the American Association of University Women.

Because women bring unique perspectives to engineering, the shortage of women in the field narrows their opportunities and impacts global competitiveness.

NIU’s STEM Outreach is trying to change that trend by encouraging more girls to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). This August, STEM Outreach is teaming up with the Illinois Girls Collaborative Project (ILGCP) and PBS’s popular series “Design Squad Nation” to train educators and engineering professionals on sparking girls’ interest in engineering.

On Monday, Aug. 27, members of the education and engineering communities – including after-school providers, engineers, technical professionals, business partners, Girl Scout leaders, members of professional organizations, K-12 educators and university educators – are invited to Northern Illinois University to participate in “Boosting Girls’ Interest in Engineering with PBS’ Design Squad Nation.”

Design Squad Nation is a reality television show on PBS that engages teams of middle- and high-school students in fun and whimsical engineering challenges. The show is hosted by professional engineers who lead the students in creating everything from musical instruments to community skate parks.

STEM Outreach, ILGCP and Design Squad Nation share the goal of motivating girls to pursue careers in science and engineering.

STEM Outreach, ILGCP and Design Squad Nation share the goal of motivating girls to pursue careers in science and engineering.

The “Boosting Girls’ Interest in Engineering” seminar runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at NIU’s Holmes Student Center in DeKalb.

Attendees will participate in hands-on activities and learn how to use multimedia tools and activity resources to make studying engineering fun.

Presenters will also share research on the types of teaching methods and messages that inspire girls to continue pursuing challenging subjects.

This training is part of the Illinois Girls Collaborative Project’s Collaboration Forum so participants will also learn how to connect and collaborate with others who share an interest in encouraging girls to pursue a STEM education.

This seminar isn’t just for girl-serving professionals; engineers who want to work with educators and agencies will come away with new tips and tricks on how to share their knowledge with eager young learners.

Pati Sievert, STEM Outreach director, is thrilled to have NIU host this professional development event.

“The event is one of only four training sessions Design Squad Nation will present nationwide,” Sievert says.

“We were excited that NIU and our partners from the Illinois Girls Collaborative Project could provide the resources and support to make this great opportunity available to educators and professionals in Illinois,” she adds. “We’re looking forward to bringing together a diverse and creative group of people who are committed to improving educational opportunities in STEM for girls and young women.”

WGBH Boston’s Susan Buckley and Chris Randall are experts in creating fun, interactive curriculum.According to their website, the goals of this highly watched series are to:

  • increase students’ knowledge of engineering and the design process;
  • improve the public image of engineering; and
  • encourage further exploration.

Susan Buckley and Chris Randall from WGBH Boston’s Education Department will lead the seminar. Both presenters have extensive knowledge in creating educational materials that help extend learning experiences beyond a single event or television show.

Buckley focuses on WGBH’s engineering and science projects such as “Design Squad,” “FETCH! with Ruff Ruffman” and “ZOOM.” Randall develops activity guides, websites and professional development resources for WGBH’s science and engineering TV shows and also has created educator resources for NASA.

Buckley and Randall say that their seminar at NIU will provide networking opportunities for companies, not-for-profits, K-12+ educators, informal educators and others working to advance girls in STEM fields.

Attendees will come away from the seminar with new professional contacts, engaging lesson plans and helpful resources for applying for ILGCP mini-grants that can help educators fund new and exciting lessons. All attendees will also receive complimentary coffee and lunch.

Space is limited, so register now to reserve a spot at “Boosting Girls’ Interest in Engineering with PBS’s Design Squad Nation.” Visit

To learn more about this event and other STEM Outreach initiatives, visit or contact Sievert at (815) 753-1201 or [email protected].

by Gillian King-Cargile