With statistically low percentages of women employed in engineering and other STEM-related fields, industry giant ExxonMobil brought a special program to Beaumont meant to educate and encourage female youth about STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) career choices by introducing them to women in STEM-related fields and showing them just how fun and interesting those fields could be.
ExxonMobil hosted “Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day” at Lamar University on April 8 at the University Reception Center on the eighth floor of the Mary and John Gray Library.
Although women comprise about half of the U.S. workforce, they hold only 14 percent of engineering jobs, as reported by the Economics and Statistics Administration. According to a report by the Congressional Joint Economic Committee, women comprise 14 percent of the engineering workforce and represent just 27 percent of mathematics and computer-science professionals.
This is the second year ExxonMobil has invited 80 eighth grade girls, 10 each from eight area schools, to encourage them to envision careers in math and science as they learn about the exciting aspects of engineering careers. Seven of the eight BISD schools invited attended the event, making the total number of student participants 70. Middle Schools Smith, South Park, Austin, Vincent, Marshall, M.L. King, and Odom were represented.
A presentation kicked off the day before the junior high girls were separated into four groups. The groups rotated through four separate activities. The groups participated in a bridge building activity, made lip gloss, listened and posed questions to a panel of STEM professionals and toured two LU campus engineering labs. The Lamar chapter of the Society of Women Engineers volunteered and assisted in conducting tours of the chemical engineering lab and the civil engineering lab, where the girls got to view a ballistics demonstration, according to engineering event coordinator for Lamar University Sarah Paine. The activities at the event were designed to showcase the fun and unique applications of science, technology, engineering and math that help solve everyday problems. ExxonMobil engineers and Lamar University students served as on-site mentors, leading experiments demonstrating the creative and collaborative aspects of engineering.
In the bridge-building exercise, students were provided glue, straws and a few other materials to build a load-bearing truss bridge. Student teams worked together to engineer the sturdiest structure. The winning team was determined by whose bridge could bear the most weight.
In another room, student teams worked with chemistry tools to create lip gloss. Students were provided with lab coats, safety glasses and gloves for handling chemical components utilized in the exercise. Different oils were provided to flavor a variety of glosses, which the students were able to take home at the end of the day.
The panel discussion provided students the opportunity to hear from women in STEM-related fields working for ExxonMobil. All of the participating panelists are local to the area and were able to answer questions related to their fields and employment.
Eighth-grader Mary Chatman from Austin Middle School said she found the day’s events informative and engaging.
“We got do a lot of fun and interesting things today,” said Chatman, who aspires to become a chemical engineer. “We really had to communicate as a team during some of the activities. I thought that was important.”
Chatman, whose mom teaches science for BISD, is in honors science, reading and language arts at Austin, plays basketball, runs track and participates in several other extracurricular activities. She thanked Coach Tommy Gaspard, who chaperoned the Austin Middle School participants, and said she feels proud to have been chosen as one of 10 students from her school to participate in the “Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day.”
“We have the most wonderful staff, and the principal is great at our school,” she said. “We have so many activities at Austin. I couldn’t ask for a better school.”
ExxonMobil Air Permits and Programs Section Supervisor Britney Head organized the event for ExxonMobil, a company she said has been providing the program to schools around the country for years.
“This is the second annual event in Beaumont, but ExxonMobil has been doing it for about a decade,” Head said. “When you ask the girls at the beginning of the day if they have ever met a female engineer, they typically say ‘no.’ With all the industry in the area, that is surprising. We need good female role models in engineering.”
Head asserted that engineers and other STEM-related careers are in high demand across the country, and although United States’ schools graduate numerous engineers annually, the demand far exceeds the production.
“There is a deficit of engineers across the country,” Head explained. “Although the rate of engineers produced in America is steady, it’s just not enough. We need more engineers, especially female engineers.”
She said engineering is one of the focuses of the program but could not be the ultimate choice of many participating students.
“Not every girl here will become an engineer, but they have other options in math, science and technology careers,” Head related. “And those jobs are very important to this area and across the country. In Beaumont, we have a real need for technology degrees, as well as engineering.”
Head said between 30 and 40 ExxonMobil employees volunteered to assist in the program.