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‘We’ve got to open doors for everyone’

July 22, 2013

NIU-EEP logo“If we’re going to out-innovate and out-educate the rest of the world, we’ve got to open doors for everyone. We need all hands on deck, and that means clearing hurdles for women and girls as they navigate careers in science, technology, engineering and math.” — First Lady Michelle Obama

It has become crucial for the students of the United States to pursue education in a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) field.

Women make up almost half of the workforce today yet continue to be outnumbered and out-earned. Supporting women in STEM fields has become more important than ever as 49 percent of women pursuing STEM degrees choose STEM to make a difference.

Stereotypically, women choose to focus on areas of engineering that directly impact more diverse and under-represented segments of the population. Innovation in these areas of industry can directly impact the world.

Strengthening the pipeline of STEM is a mission of the NIU College of Engineering and Engineering Technology. One of the college’s student organizations, Enhancing Engineering Pathways (EEP), funded by Motorola Solutions, engages young girls in the field of engineering to ensure a greater retention for girls once they reach the college level.

These young girls, from various backgrounds such as the Girl Scouts of Northern Illinois and the Girls Scouts of the Greater Chicago, have excelled in math and science to participate in the program. All EEP lessons pertain to the field of engineering, but include math, physics and science.

Enhancing Engineering Pathways

When the program launched in 2008, 36 middle school and high school girls were involved in EEP. Enrollment has grown exponentially as 110 girls are now participating.

Middle school girls are designing flashlights, exploring lean manufacturing and creating computer-animated programs.

After the girls surpass these challenging projects and advance to high school, they design bridges, robotics, cool electronics, LED bracelets, electronic origami and more. They also become paid mentors for the middle school girls.

The program has proven so successful that five girls who graduated this year with involvement in the program since middle school carried out their STEM focus by pursuing careers in aerospace, chemical engineering, biomedical engineering and electrical engineering.

This year, NIU-EEP takes a step even further and extends the program to college level. The goal is to have girls enter in middle school and stay active in the program through graduation day into a STEM field. The college-level women now will become mentors for the high school girls, adding more experience to the program.

Suma Rajashankar

Suma Rajashankar

Girls have partnered with the NIU Society of Women Engineers (SWE), and many attend the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy to further their education within the field of engineering as well as apply for scholarship programs offered within these organizations. One of the girls from Chicago received the SWE scholarship to continue her education in college.

NIU-SWE members consider this a win-win situation; they have so much to offer to the girls in the EEP program, and many eventually join SWE as a result of enjoying the experience.

With the support of Motorola Solutions, the EEP high school rookie team “Girls on Wheels” successfully participated in the robotics regional competition, The First Tech Challenge. These are the same girls who began the program in middle school, became high school mentors and made outstanding accomplishments.

Notably, they won the PTC Design Award for Best Designed Robot, which highlights the “coolest, cleanest and neatest robot” in the competition. The team was mentored and coached by Suma Rajashankar and husband K. Rajashankar.

Workshops run on various Saturdays from October through May. This past June, EEP concluded the program with a week-long camp that focused on roller-coaster design.

To learn more about camps or sign up for the program, email [email protected].