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Celebrating International Women in Engineering Day

The Golden Gate Bridge, Navy’s Coston Flares signalling system, and Kevlar were all constructed by contributions made by women engineers. Women in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) have been creating and inventing products, processes, and improving our lives on a daily basis. 

According to the US Census Bureau, women make up 48% of the workforce yet only 27% have chosen STEM careers. Nationwide, STEM careers  account for nearly 7% of all occupations including  engineers, medical scientists who rapidly created the COVID-19 vaccine, and developers who create the countless apps we use on our phones every day.

Significance of Women in Engineering Day

The International Women in Engineering Day was originally created as a global awareness campaign to raise the profile of women in engineering and focus attention on the career opportunities available to girls in that field. Young women are encouraged to explore STEM occupations and pursue engineering careers through  exposure and mentorship programs. Organizations like Women in STEM focus on developing dually-driven approaches to address the attitudes surrounding women in STEM and increase the opportunities available to girls in high school. 

Despite an increase in the number of women in STEM professions, recent data from the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics show a decline in women receiving bachelor’s degrees in computer science from 27% in 1998 to just under 20% in 2018. Some attribute the decline to teachers exhibiting implicit bias towards girls and the impacts affecting their education. A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research showed long-term effects of primary school teachers’ implicit beliefs about gender on children’s math skills and ambitions. Researchers found that girls scored higher than boys on math tests without names listed, but once the test was tied to a recognizable boy or girl name, teachers awarded higher scores to boys. 

Providing access to mentors, counselors, and advisors to allow girls to understand and learn about STEM careers will not only increase the number of women in STEM occupations, but also positively impact organizations and their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) efforts. Being able to track DE&I initiatives in schools allows administrators to address areas of opportunity and reduce implicit bias by providing the same opportunities to both girls and boys to explore and participate in STEM programs at school.

Providing accessibility to all students

Students should be given the same opportunities regardless of gender or racial disparity. Allowing students to access mentors and advisors provides students an opportunity to explore a wide range of careers that become non-gender conforming. 

The ConexED platform enables  schools, colleges, and universities to provide a way for students to drop-in during open office or lobby hours, as well as providing  students the opportunity to schedule meetings with a counselor, advisor, or mentor. With the ability to chat, email, or connect immediately via video meetings, students have more accessibility to engage with mentors that may have busy schedules. Scheduling  in-person meetings often entails lost travel time and coordinating calendars for both parties involved. Having the ability to meet immediately via video and also track engagement across demographics (with SIS integration), provides institutions with key data insights to ensure equal educational opportunities to female and male students.

Increasing opportunities for girls in STEM programs starts with equal accessibility and support through technology and a conscious effort to provide the same education regardless of gender.

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[It’s] not about being the quickest to understand. Keep going and keep trying, and you will be amazed at the support that is available to you. More people want you to succeed than could ever want you to fail.”

Brenna Harden

ConexED celebrates, Brenna, Software Developer

Like many women in STEM, Brenna’s educational journey didn’t begin in computer science. As a student, she found it difficult to choose just one program. Her many interests led her to the Humanities, where she could study art, literature, philosophy and law, all at once. A few years after college, with a Bachelor of Arts degree and a management position at an international shipping company, Brenna still felt like she had more to learn and do. With a nudge from her best friend, Brenna attended Devmountain, an immersive web development program that teaches front and backend development. Brenna was hooked from start to finish of the program. Her enthusiasm and natural skill set earned her an invitation to teach for Devmountain. When recounting her experience teaching, Brenna said she was challenged to learn and view information in new ways. She built narratives to help her students to understand various concepts and make connections. “It’s a privilege to teach, because the only advantage you really have over the students is having walked that path already. It’s truly amazing to see how they grow into their understanding and become so skilled, so quickly. I’m so happy and proud to see them landing their first developer jobs and launching their careers.”

While teaching for Devmountain, Brenna was recruited to join the ConexED team. Brenna is putting her Javascript, HTML and CSS knowledge into action and is currently working on the video meeting archive, as well as the group calendar and scheduling features in the ConexED system. When asked about her experience as a ConexED developer, Brenna said, “I love that I have a voice. I can offer ideas and opinions about new features and changes. I get to help shape the vision for the platform.” As a naturally creative person, Brenna enjoys being innovative and having autonomy with the design and infrastructure of the interface she is implementing. “… My work is so fulfilling. The skills that I am developing are mine to take with me wherever I go. I’m continually growing and learning, I feel empowered to make my own decisions and I know I’m being heard.”

When asked about what advice Brenna would give to girls or women exploring coding, Brenna said she needed structure to be successful. A summer STEM or internship program will allow you to immerse yourself into learning. It also allows you to ask for guidance and learn best practices while networking. Brenna also suggests, “… Try it out. Don’t be afraid to like or dislike coding. Follow your interests and passions, and don’t be afraid to try something new and struggle.”

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