Last night I facilitated a group of Pathfinders (girls aged 12 – 14) in designing a colony on Mars. They were good at it too!
It was a theoretical exercise designed by young engineer named Rose, especially for National Engineering Month, which is in March (Happy NEM) :). The ‘Mission to Mars’ exercise is designed to get young people thinking about how the design of a space affects the quality of life of the people in it. And the neat thing about starting from scratch on Mars is that it introduces young people to challenges that are happening right here on Earth in a very direct, simple non-intimidating way.
Before introducing the exercise, I told them about myself a little bit – Materials Engineer, graduated then worked in a factory solving problems, really liked that because I got to help people, then moved on and became my own boss. Yup, that pretty much covers it.
I asked them ‘Can you tell I am an engineer just by looking at me?’. I was gesturing, keeping my right hand prominent, trying to get them to notice my Iron Ring but instead the conversation took a much more interesting turn.
‘No, we thought you were a school-teacher….’ answered one girl, and the other girls agreed that I most definitely did not ‘look’ like an engineer. I explained that engineers could be anyone – any colour, any gender, from anywhere in the world, etc – and that though it used to be that only men were engineers, women are entering the profession more and more. Then another question came up:
Great question. It’s interesting how an exercise that talks about something as futuristic and fantastical as colonizing Mars had us come right back around to the history of gender segregation in engineering.
That question of why it happened that way has many answers. To me, the most important thing is that we are moving forward into a dynamic and innovative future for engineering that receives and values contributions from people from all walks of life, including gender.
I hope that the girls left my presentation feeling like they could certainly have a future in engineering, if they wanted one.Read More