Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Sunday

March 16, 2014

Traverse City Central team works to close gender gap

TRAVERSE CITY — Alycia Gerber didn’t know much about engineering when she started high school.

She wasn’t that interested in science or technology, and she didn’t see herself pursuing either field as a career. Nothing had ever prompted her to consider it.

That all changed when Gerber ventured out of her comfort zone during her freshman year and signed onto the robotics team at Traverse City Central High School.

“I joined not really knowing what I was in for, and it turned out to be really fun,” she said.

Gerber, a junior, is now in her third year on the robotics team. She stands out because of her knowledge and passion for the sport, and because of her gender. Gerber is one of only 10 girls on a team of 39 students.

“I’ve definitely seen that engineering is not so much for girls,” she said.

Gerber and her teammates are working to change that notion. When they aren’t building their robot, they’re planning outreach programs for local elementary schools.

Members of the team so far visited two second-grade classrooms to speak with young students about engineering. They use a story book and construction set from GoldieBlox, a project of U.S. engineer Debbie Sterling meant to introduce girls to engineering at a young age.

The goal is to give boys and girls equal exposure to engineering to try and combat gender disparity within the field. Women make up 11.7 percent of engineers in the U.S. workforce, according to the National Science Foundation.

“I think a lot of times, and not even intentionally, there’s a stereotype that girls don’t do science and engineering,” Gerber said. “We’re trying to break that down and say, ‘You can do this. Look at what you can do.’”

Gerber said she would have figured out she wanted to be an engineer a long time ago if something like GoldieBlox would have been around when she was younger. That’s why she’s determined to continue the outreach.

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