Girls Exploring Science, Engineering, and Technology Event – GESET (Case Study 1)

Targeted Recruitment of Women and Girls into IT

The Rocky Mountain Section of the Society of Women Engineers, Lockheed Martin, Junior Achievement of the Rocky Mountains, Inc., and the Women’s Foundation of Colorado collaborate each year to produce the Girls Exploring Science, Engineering, and Technology (GESET) event for hundreds of girls. In 2006, over 1,200 Denver metropolitan area girls, and more than 200 volunteers, teachers, and chaperones participated in the event. The purpose of GESET is to engage middle-school girls in science, engineering, and technology activities, orient them toward the high school courses they need to take to enter related career fields, and interest them in pursuing these avenues as careers. Girls attend three workshops that are interactive, hands-on experiences, demonstrating real-world aspects of science, engineering, and technology. In addition, workshop presenters are asked to emphasize the importance of studying science and mathematics in high school, including which essential courses girls need to take. Girls are also encouraged to look at various exhibits by local STEM organizations, including booths run by Denver Public Schools technology advancement program and several industry participants. Students fill out a survey at the end of their last workshop, after which they attended a lunch with drawings for raffle prizes. In 2006, the Colorado Coalition for Gender & IT (an NCWIT Hub) also provided a workshop for the adults, where they discussed myths and effective practices related to girls in IT. This workshop provided a valuable environment for like-minded organizations to begin collaborative efforts to improve girls’ and women’s participation in information technology.

 

GENERAL PRINCIPLES AND ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS

The most important elements for reaching girls of this age group are to:

  • Ensure that the girls are with their friends or can otherwise feel a sense of belonging in the group to which they are assigned

  • Keep the talk to a minimum and the action to a maximum (get advice from middle school teachers, who are experts at this)

  • Connect what they are doing to things they already know or care about

Evidence Of Effectiveness

The University of Colorado’s ATLAS Evaluation & Research Group, led by NCWIT Senior Research Scientist Lecia Barker, has both observed the event and administered surveys for students and adults for the past three years. Although it is not possible for a one-time survey to determine the long-range effectiveness of such an event, the observations and surveys help organizers to ensure that their immediate goals are being met. The surveys also discover more about girls and the people who influence them. For example, each year the survey asks the open-ended question, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” Obviously, there will be some elements of fantasy in the girls’ answers (this decreases with age, according to research), but the question can inform recruiters choosing application areas within which IT instruction can be embedded. New survey items are added or refined every year to better understand girls’ attitudes and behaviors; for example, in 2006 a new question was asked relating to girls’ willingness to take a class dominated by boys. Observation of the GESET event has supported the collection of good (and bad) ideas. For example, one engineer asked girls how many wanted to be auto mechanics; the girls looked at each other and rolled their eyes. She then asked them if they thought it would be useful to be able to repair a car; to this, they could agree. Now that the engineer had their attention, she told the girls that like knowing how to fix a car, knowing math and science would help them to achieve other goals, including having cool careers.


 

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Authors: Lecia Barker