This is about young women in engineering, a delightful story of student teams competing every year in the National Engineers Week Future City Design Challenge. In 2008, with just 7 young ladies, the FemGineers magic started at Heritage Middle School in Livingston, NJ. Today 65-70 young ladies participate in this activity … after school I might add. Even young ladies who have gone on to high school come back to mentor their little sisters. Some of the original founding members of this group have gone on to engineering colleges.
As each class year works creatively on their design challenge, they do so mindful of those that came before and the spirit of excellence they project-for around the room is a large collection of awards attesting to what those who came before have accomplished. These young ladies have also competed in the Edison Innovation Foundation’s annual Thomas Edison Invention Challenge–another national design experience … and they have trophies to prove their creativity there as well.
Listen to what Kenny Zushma their inspirational technology education teacher has to say about his charges.
“It is about more than just painting it pink. To truly excite females at a young age in the STEM fields, two items must be present. First is social fit. Girls need to feel a sense of community and belonging in a group. They do not want to be perceived as different. By having this group in place, they are assured that they are with like-minded young ladies who share the same interests. Second, they need to feel a sense of meaning when designing. By this, I mean they don’t want to design for the sake of competition, nor do they want to destructively test their designs. They want to design and build to improve life. Regardless of if it is on a global or local scale, they want to add to the community.”
We hear a great deal about STEM education and students using head and hands to design new things. I cannot think of a better example of this educational paradigm. Alongside this, Kenny gives his ladies a healthy dose of Thomas Edison and how his work at the nearby legendary Edison West Orange, NJ labs, [now officially known as the Thomas Edison National Historical Park] dovetails so well with the invention process. At West Orange, Edison put in place an invention process that encompasses the entire STEM movement-it is the taproot of STEM thinking and implementation-head and hands to the highest order. The FemGineers all benefit greatly by studying Edison, and carry that work ethic with them. Old Tom would be very proud!
Thomas Edison said, “I find out what the world needs. Then I go ahead and try to invent it.”
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