When I was in the sixth grade, I remember my teacher telling me that I was smart enough in math and science that I could be an engineer when I grew up. I still remember thinking that it was so weird that my teacher wanted me to be an engineer on a train. You see, I had no exposure to the world of engineering. The only “engineer” I had ever heard about where the ones who worked trains. Seriously.
When I ended up going off to university, I first majored in Mathematics. Not because I had any passion for math. I was simply good at it. And my family had placed a higher value on STEM than Arts. After two years of hating my major and failing my C++ programming class, I finally switched to a liberal arts major. In Feminist Politics classes, I had found my people.
The Dare 2B Digital conference was designed to open the eyes of young women in 7th to 10th grade to the pervasiveness of computing technologies in their everyday life and the wide spectrum of exciting and creative careers that leverage an education in Computer Science or Electrical Engineering. Local technologists from companies like Oracle, eBay, Cisco, Microsoft, Mozilla, NetApp and Symantec will teach sessions including: Blogging, e-Commerce, Computer Networking, Robotics, Computer Programming and more. Parents can attend sessions on Financing College Education, Online Safety and Handling Teen Stress.
The inspiration for the event is quite simple: The U.S. is falling behind in developing its future workforce of technologists. First-year undergraduate women interested in computer science majors dropped 79% 2000 – 2009. Women held 25% of IT occupations in 2009 – down from 36% in 1991. Computer science is the only field in Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics where women’s participation has decreased. Diverse perspectives boost innovation, productivity and competitiveness. IT patents from mixed-gender teams are cited up to 42% more – yet U.S. women are involved in only 9% of them.
Yet sometimes, I still wonder if I had the right exposure and the right support, if I wouldn’t have ended up on the business operations side of the corporation rather than the engineering side of the house. Had my sixth grade teacher explained what it meant to be an engineer… Had I not signed up for an 8am class on C++ programming… Had there been an academic advisor who encouraged me to push through those upper division math classes… Maybe I would have chosen a different path. Or maybe I’d still be a Senior Operations Manager who spends most of her days creating power point decks and communications.
I certainly don’t regret my choices. I know that, ultimately, I found a career that fills many of my strengths. But I am also glad that we are exposing teen girls to the power of the STEM world. Those girls won’t go growing up thinking the only type of engineer is a train conductor.
The Dare 2B Digital conference will be held at Oracle headquarters on Saturday, February 9th for a nominal fee for both parents and teens. Scholarships are available.