‘Engineer Like a Girl’ Summer Program Empowers Students to Change the World

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Maleah Smith, 16, of Huntingtown, shows off the prosthetic hand she built during CSM’s summer program, 'Engineer Like a Girl.’ “This class made me feel better about my ability to succeed.” Smith said. “In high school – this fear and anxiety happens. But no professional field should be gender stereotyped. If you want to do something – you should just go do it.”

The College of Southern Maryland (CSM) recently wrapped up its third summer program aimed at empowering area girls to develop their talents and become the world’s problem solvers. Eight high school students from Southern Maryland participated in ‘Engineer Like a Girl’ at the Leonardtown Campus where they learned about the varied and many opportunities that exist for women who pursue careers in engineering fields.

The program’s lead instructor, Pre-Engineering Coordinator Jehnell Linkins, said the goal of the week-long program was two-fold: First, teach young girls that no profession is gender-specific; and second, prove that engineering can be really fun.

For Maleah Smith, 16, of Huntingtown, Linkins’ mission was accomplished.

“I came to this class with a stereotype in my head that this class would not be easy or fun,” Smith said on the last day of class. “But what I have learned is that the engineering process is really about designing things – all kinds of things.”

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Huntingtown High School student Maleah Smith builds a prosthetic hand during CSM’s third ‘Engineer Like A Girl’ summer program at CSM’s Leonardtown Campus.

Smith is a Huntingtown High School student and she said she plans to pursue a career as a medical researcher. Her favorite part of the week occurred when the students got to break plastic femurs, and put them back together. She was equally enthusiastic to make a robotic prosthetic hand and a cell phone detector.

“This class made me feel better about my ability to succeed.” Smith said. “In high school – this fear and anxiety happens. But no professional field should be gender stereotyped. If you want to do something – you should just go do it.”

During CSM’s “Engineer Like a Girl” program, the students toured the U.S. Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station and met with high ranking women engineers and senior leadership who shared their career experiences. The students also participated in several workshops and hands-on activities, but perhaps the most powerful lesson they received was about the power of self-confidence.

“All of the students were so different, but what brought them all together was when they realized that they were already superstars,” shared CSM Math Division Chair Dr. Stephanie McCaslin. She spent some class time with the girls to teach them about problem solving “on a large scope,” interactions and relationships at home and in the work place, and that while some solutions are not obvious, they are attainable.

“I basically reminded them that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result,” McCaslin said.

Gender diversity in engineering and computer science (ECS) has been a continuous struggle, according to a presentation recently given by Senior Manager of Research for the Society of Women Engineers Dr. Roberta Rincon at the 2018 American Society of Engineering Education Annual Conference and Exposition in June. In Rincon’s paper she wrote that “gender diversity in engineering and computer science (ECS) has been a continuous struggle. Women have been enrolling and graduating from college at higher rates than men for three decades, but disciplines like ECS continue to strive to raise their female enrollments.”

McKenna Gallagher, 16, of Leonardtown, said she now plans to break down gender barriers in the engineering field.

“My favorite part of (Engineer Like a Girl) was visiting NAVAIR and seeing fully what people get to do there,” Gallagher said. “That visit really helped me realize and understand what I can do with my future and it confirms that I want a future in aeronautical engineering.”

With a focus on engaging, educating, and employing a future pipeline for a highly skilled and competitive workforce, the CSM is a valuable resource for parents, students and employers. Partners, including the naval installations, the boards of education, colleges, career centers, private industry, civic organizations, and professional associations, have collaborated with CSM to coordinate efforts from grade school through college in order to ensure a highly skilled workforce that can be employed locally to lead our region into the future.

For more information about CSM’s STEM programs, visit http://stem.csmd.edu/.

For information on CSM’s ‘Engineer Like a Girl’ summer program, call 301-934-7747 or visit http://stem.csmd.edu/EngineerLikeaGirl.html.

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