Milwaukee Summer Program Encourages Girls to Pursue Engineering

Jun 29, 2017

Girls busy wiring a circuit board at Marquette's WE-GIRLS: Women in Electrical Engineering summer program.
Credit Alex Groth

It's summer and yet a group of girls have opted to spend time in classroom and labs in Milwaukee, to study engineering.

Statistically, some of them will face challenges in becoming engineers, but right now, members of this group are determined. 

One of the girls is Claire Kasier, an incoming freshman at Hamilton High School in Sussex. She says this environment is different than engineering classes at school. It's quieter.

"I think it's pretty cool, because in my tech class there were only five girls out of a class of 26," she says.

Besides, the girls don't have time to talk right now because they're busy competing against each other.

Who can wire a circuit board the fastest?

If wired correctly, the board would generate a random number.

Well, actually there's a bit more to it.

"It's a printed circuit board called an Arduino that has a micro-controller on it and we're using it to wire things from the board to it and then we can program thing in the Arduino programming environment," Kasier says.

Kate Hightdudis was having trouble wiring because her circuit board didn't match the one in the directions. 

But she did not give up.

Kristen Seashore says there are a number of reasons why girls might stop pursuing engineering--and not because instructions are sometimes wrong.

Seashore is section president of Society of Women Engineers Wisconsin. She says women make up only 15-percent of the engineering field.

"One of the challenges that we see is traditionally girls when they're younger around the age of six and seventh grade is when they start to lose interest in math and science--the physical sciences," Seashore says.

The same age as the girls in this engineering program.

"Part of it is just a lack of role models in that space, seeing women in positions of authority or on boards of directors or working as engineering in industry."

There is a woman role model here today with the middle-schoolers. Her name is Maggie Weglarz. She's a junior at Marquette studying bioelectrical engineering.

"I really enjoy working with circuits and working with young girls because I really had, I mean I had my science and math classes, but I didn't ever do any engineering camps and I think this is a really good opportunity for them to be exposed to engineering at an early age so they know at least a little bit," she says.

Back at Claire Kasier's work area, she thinks this engineering program will help her decide which type of engineering she want to pursue as a career.

"Because I have a lot of an interest in engineering I thought it would be fun to learn about electrical because it's a field I've considered going in to."

Kate Hightdudis—the girl who was struggling to match the directions to her circuit board, she says she’s here just to see if she likes engineering. She says, one thing she has noticed, is that it’s easier for her to learn in an all-girls class.

“I’m guessing if there were boys in this class they would assume we couldn’t do a lot, because that’s kind of what happened last year where if someone didn’t know exactly how to do something than a teacher who was male just did it for you, and so that is sad,” she says.

There are other all girls enrolled for summer engineering programs at UW-Milwaukee and MATC.