Engineering is typically thought of in terms of mechanical and civil engineering to the average person. Perhaps because when the cave man chiseled out the first wheel he became the first mechanical engineer. When he dug in the dirt, he was doing some civil engineering work. It is a limited view of engineering to think of engineering as mainly or mostly in terms of mechanical, civil and electrical engineering. Most of the variety of majors in engineering are subgroups of these three categories.
Let’s define engineering. It is the creation and making of things. Let’s call the creating part of the process - design or engineering. The making portion is manufacturing. Using the words “creating” is thought of as an “artsy”. If instead of creating you think of design you realize that “engineering” or “designing” is done in a wide range of fields. You see how big the whole field of engineering truly is. There are packaging engineers that design boxes and containers and those plastic molded cases that are so tough to open after you buy the product inside them. There are people who design pens and the ink that is inside of them.
To bring more girls into the wide field of engineering, it is necessary to show them that the interests, skills, talents and aptitudes they already have translate easily into engineering skills. Having been a math and science high school teacher, I heard in algebra class how kids were not good in math. I showed them that they have been doing algebra since the first grade when they filled in the box 2 + □ = 3. Now in algebra instead of a box □, we use a letter but instead of letters only because letters make it easier and faster to write. When I explain this, light bulbs go off and the first hurdle is cleared. That is the hurdle of believing you can do something.
Using sewing, a skill that many girls are interested in as a vehicle to teach engineering/design concepts uses something they are interested in which keeps their attention and show them that they are capable. It makes engineering fun which is what it should be. Sewing can be used to demonstrate various types of engineering such as; Mechanical, Civil, Packaging, and Manufacturing. Concepts such as estimating, safety (Safety Engineer). As a high school student considering engineering as a profession, I, myself, was told “How can you be an engineer if you are not mechanically inclined?” I didn’t tinker with cars or lawn mowers. I embroidered, did appliqué work and stitched. You don’t need to be “mechanically inclined” to be an engineer. You don’t need to be “butch” or give up your femininity which is often thought to be the case. You don’t have to think like a guy either. I may wear a pair of construction boots from time to time but they sit next to my red high-heeled pumps in the closet.
Crafts such as cooking, wood working, ceramics are other examples of things that students are already interested in and showing them how what they already like/love to do translate into engineering.
Instead of trying to get students interested in engineering, show them that what they already are interested in IS engineering – just in a different form then they are taught to think of it.