How to Recruit Girls to Join Engineering Programs

Today is Girl Day – a day focused on showing girls how creative and collaborative engineering is and how engineers are changing our world. It’s part of Engineers Week or ‘eweek’ as most people call it. 

For us, it’s Girl Day everyday! We offer programs for girls designed to provide hands-on engagement with engineering and technology. Since 2012, we have served over 500 girls. All of the girls in our programs attend public schools in Los Angeles where over 90% of students qualify for the Federal free/reduced lunch program and 99% of the girls are Latina.

We have been successful in getting girls excited about our programs while we’re trying to recruit them. Girls aren’t required to join, selected by teachers or enrolled by parents to be a part of DIY Girls, instead the girls choose to sign up after attending a recruitment workshop. By giving girls a taste of what they will experience in our program, they are instantly excited and want to join the program. We have waiting lists for all of our programs and unfortunately can’t enroll all girls that are interested. 

Here are a few strategies that have been successful for us in recruiting girls: 

1. Set up a Recruitment Workshop that offers a Hands-on Activity

Our programs start with 5th grade girls. We partner with elementary schools in LA and offer an afterschool program in spaces at the schools making it easier for girls to attend. Almost all of the girls that we are trying to recruit haven’t heard about engineering or don’t know an engineer so we think handing out flyers to join an engineering would be ineffective. An open house would probably result in only a few girls attending and reaching out to busy teachers would probably be time-consuming. 

Instead we offer a recruitment workshop for all 5th grade girls during the school day. We coordinate with the school to have all 5th grade girls attend a workshop in their auditorium or school cafeteria for about 40 min – 1 hour. Girls arrive to the auditorium (usually about 60-100 girls)  and sometimes have no idea why they were sent there. We then introduce ourselves for a few minutes (no Powerpoint or videos) and then tell them that they will get to make something. Each girl receives materials to make a low-cost hands-on project. 

We give them a small ball of  squishy circuits conductive dough, an LED, and a battery and then challenge them to use the materials to light up the LED. It gets noisy and girls are busy trying to get their LED to light up. They connect the LED directly to the battery and notice that it gets really hot and sometimes burns out. Most of them short the LED by inserting the LED and battery into one ball of dough and eventually one girl gets it and there’s lots of excitement in the room and curiosity from the others on how she did it. They get to take the materials home so they’re even more excited to show others. After they’re done, we then give them the details about our program and hand them a registration form. We get over 50% of the girls to return the form with their parent’s permission. At one school we got 50 out of 60 girls to register! Some schools stop collecting the forms after they receive over 30. We only have 30 spots so we take girls in the order they returned their forms.

2. Talk about Creative Engineering Projects

Instead of using traditional science experiments and other common engineering  projects for kids like egg drops, bridges and cars, DIY Girls provides a variety of creative materials and technology (such as 3D printers, electronics and advanced tools) to participants along with guidance for them to create their own projects.  When we are recruiting we make sure to mention examples of creative projects and what areas they applied to like fashion technology, robotics, toy and video game making, etc. This usually connects engineering to some of the girls’ interests. Each project appeals to different girls, for example not all of them like video games or fashion. 

3. Highlight the Girls’ Advantages

Instead of only focusing on the disadvantages of their community, our program highlights the advantages including living in a community of makers. The girls we serve are from immigrant communities where men and women are already makers that make their own furniture and other things. We aim to make explicit for girls the connection between making in their community and making with more advanced technology. We ask girls about things that their parents make. Lots of girls have dads that are electricians or work in construction or mothers that are seamstresses or factory workers. They sometimes tell us about how the circuit they just made relates to something they’ve seen their parents do. In fact, one time a girl told us that after the recruitment activity, she showed her dad her circuit and he got so excited that he immediately took her to buy more LEDs and they experimented at home together with the Squishy Circuit dough on that same day. 

Share ideas for recruiting girls to engineering

What has been successful for you to recruit young girls to engineering activities? We’d love to hear other strategies. Comment below with your ideas! 

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