Educating girls about engineering
Doctoral student of engineering connects with young girls through outreach program at the University of Waterloo
Doctoral student of engineering connects with young girls through outreach program at the University of WaterlooBy Beth Gallagher Communications and Public Affairs
As a young girl, Jennifer Howcroft loved science as much as she loved helping people so she always assumed she’d become a medical doctor.
But when she heard about biomedical engineering in her teens, Howcroft knew she had found her true calling. Biomedical engineering allowed Howcroft, now a doctoral student in Waterloo’s Department of Systems Design Engineering, to blend her passion for creating and building with her drive to improve the lives of people.
Howcroft, whose research involves wearable sensors that could one day help prevent falls in seniors and people with disabilities, has shared her work with participants in Girls Club, the University’s engineering outreach program for girls in Grades 4-6 and 7-9.
“It’s important to show girls at a young age that engineering is diverse," says Howcroft. “It’s more than drilling for oil or building hydro dams.”
Girls Club started this year through the University’s popular Engineering Science Quest (ESQ) summer camps. The program is also supported by the Faculty of Engineering’s Women in Engineering (WiE) initiative.
Breaking down stereotypes
“It’s important to foster that science interest at a young age,” says Howcroft. “When you reach Grade 12 it can be too late. It’s so much easier to stay on the path of math and science if you start young.”
Alison Scott, Girls Club coordinator, says: “We’re breaking down stereotypes. If you ask a kid what an engineer does, they will often say that they work on a train or at a construction site.”
Scott says young people should know that engineers are involved in all aspects of life, from medical applications like contact lenses and drug delivery systems to electronics and the environment.
Scott says girls enrolled in the program are often already invested in math and science, so she hopes Girls Club participants will be ambassadors for their friends at school. “It’s important for these girls to be role models for their peers.”
Scott says Girls Club is an opportunity to open the minds of girls when it comes to science and engineering but ultimately she hopes it fosters confidence to pursue their passion.
“It’s important for parents to be supportive of any career path and to help their daughters keep their options open by encouraging them to take math and science,” says Scott.