North Carolina is trying to recruit girls for careers in engineering not only to fill anticipated vacancies but also because hiring more women could make the roads safer.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation (DOT) is using newspapers, masking tape and a competitive spirit to get more young women interested in engineering.
The agency is hosting a series of events where girls in high school and junior high can meet and work with the department's women engineers. Each engineer is assigned a table of students and tasked with constructing the tallest building they can with just five sheets of newspaper and five pieces of masking tape. The teams are judged, not just on how tall their buildings are, but how durable they are too. For instance, can they survive earthquakes (the table being rocked beneath them) and high winds (an electric fan set beside them)?
It is one of many activities at the gatherings, which also include presentations on what engineers do. Panelists discuss why they chose engineering, what is required academically to get into the field and what types of jobs are available. North Carolina is hosting four such events over a month, with roughly 200 students expected to participate. "All of the girls there were awestruck [by the presentations]," said Gail Herring, who coordinates the programs for the North Carolina DOT. "The purpose is to encourage more women to go into engineering, because the number of jobs in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) are going to double in the near future. We need more women and minorities to consider this opportunity."
For the North Carolina DOT, getting girls excited about engineering is important for its future. Like many transportation agencies -- andpublic agencies in general -- the department faces a future where job openings could far outnumber qualified applicants. Boosting interest among women, who are vastly underrepresented in the transportation field, is one way to address that issue. And, experts say, increasing the number of women in the workforce could improve the quality of transportation systems, too.