Solidworks World 2015: The Year of Women in Engineering
Shawn Wasserman posted on February 12, 2015 |
Talk of solving the gender gap was a prominent theme at this year’s Solidworks World.

Makerbot’s Maker Wants More Women in STEM

Makerbot creator, Bre Pettis, asks how many Solidworks World attendees have daughters before expressing the importance of girls in STEM.

It all started with the 2015 Solidworks World keynote speaker, Makerbot’s co-creator Bre Pettis. He stated to an erupting crowd, “It is our job to inspire [our daughters] to be the next generation of innovators, there are way too many dudes in the room.” From that point on, Solidworks World 2015 was a force for women in engineering.

The gender gap in the world of STEM is not new. It spans many organizations, schools, workplaces and (more disturbingly) households. To be part of closing the gender gap, Pettis insisted his daughter take part in his life of innovations and makerspaces. Additionally, he ensured that his daughter had female STEM role models.

“It really comes back to what you do in person,” said Pettis. “When I think about what I can do to encourage my daughter, that shifts it from a rant to what am I going to take responsibility for. The answer is to hire more women, hire more people of color. If you are in a position of power, white, and privileged, do the work to reach outside of your comfort zone.”

Solidworks’ Director of Education Helps Girls Get into STEM

Marie Planchard is the Director of Education Community at Solidworks.

Marie Planchard is the Director of Education Community at Solidworks. As a big supporter of Women in Engineering, Planchard was very pleased with Pettis’ keynote—and it managed to mesh well with her later address to the general assembly.

In this address Planchard said, “We can make a major change. We have a community that can make a difference. Less than 5% of the engineering attendees at last year’s Solidworks World were women. Engineers solve problems. We need more engineers to solve more problems that are complex with diverse backgrounds and different perspectives.”

She added, “As a mechanical engineer I know that women have a different perspective than men. I also know that at Solidworks we listen to our customers and we came up with the Women in Engineering Recognition Program. The program recognizes women, nominated by Solidworks community members, which have been outstanding in her career or the community.”

Arizona State’s Ecocar Team Demonstrates “Girl Power”

Arizona State Ecocar team members, Megan Cawley (front) and Ashley Yost (back) discuss replacing their car engine.

Planchard also spoke very highly of Arizona State University’s EcoCAR team. She said, “Ecocar is a great competition. The team has a lot of very smart, articulate women. I think eight of the engineers on this team are women. These cars are extremely complicated, they are dealing with alternative energy circuits, control systems, and mechanical systems.”

Megan Cawley, a PhD Mechanical Engineering student, was showcasing this EcoCAR project at Solidworks World. Her inspiration to get into STEM came from growing up around cars, where she enjoyed taking them apart and putting them back together.

She said, “In mechanical engineering, and STEM in general, you see a lot more men than women. It’s a gap that exists but I think it’s one that is shrinking.”

Cawley explained that in her experience, the ratio of women in STEM graduate schools was larger than in undergrad. She said, “I see more women in a lot of places and a lot of fields. It is great that they are going into higher education to become professors or researchers. This will inspire other women to become engineers.”

Cawley added that, “Starting from a young age a lot of girls like math but maybe they see the gender gap, they don’t see a lot of women in it. I think it’s about getting those role models out there. Getting those professors and teachers out there that say, ‘STEM is for you this is for you, do it, pursue it, do what you love.’”

Luckily for those STEM girls of the future, Cawley plans to be one of those role models as an engineering professor.

Fab Foundation & FIRST Robotics: Hook STEM Girls When They’re Young

Sherry Lassiter Director of the Fab Labs.

Marie Planchard has led Solidworks to support organizations that promote STEM education for girls. Two examples are the Fab Foundation and FIRST Robotics.

The Fab Foundation brings maker spaces, or Fab Labs, to the general public around the world. The Fab Foundation attempts to democratize maker tools and allow access to those that would not necessarily have the opportunity.

Planchard explained, “Fab Labs support women of all ages. From little girls in Cleveland, that designed and built their first prototype; to teenaged girls in Nairobi, that designed and built robots; to women in Pabal India, designers given the opportunity to become business leaders in their community.”

Sherry Lassiter, Director of the Fab Labs said, “This is really great for kids. It’s a catalytic environment to teach STEM to kids. But, they don’t notice the education as they are having too much fun making things. It gives them a reason to learn the math and physics behind a project.”

“We are especially interested in getting girls to become young engineers and scientists,” said Lassiter. She explains that since the Fab Labs are not competitive they offer a better, safer environment to get girls interested in a project. She also suggested that youth mentoring programs can help show girls that there are women involved in STEM.

Another organization that Planchard and Solidworks support is FIRST Robotics. Planchard mentioned, “They are doing everything they can to encourage kids into STEM fields that are critical. These women are changing the attitude of their community. They are not just learning the control systems, mechanical systems, and how to design in Solidworks. They are also building team skills and every other skill you need to be successful.”

Engineers Making Engineering Toys for Girls

Marie Planchard interviews Bettina Chen from Roominate, a doll house building and circuits toy.

During Planchard’s address to the Solidworks community, she interviewed the creator of Roominate, Bettina Chen. Chen explained that Roominate is a doll house-building and circuit-building toy that promotes STEM education for young girls.

But kids can build more than doll houses with Roominate. “They come up with things we can’t even think of,” said Chen. “When we first open the box we don’t give them 100 steps to make the picture on the box. We give them instructors on how pieces work, how the circuit fits together and then give them ideas.” From there the kids have been able to make everything from rocket ships to car washes.

Chen explained that her inspiration for Roominate and becoming an engineer were one and the same. “It was really the experiences I had when I was younger. Playing with my brothers’ hand-me-down Legos and Lincoln logs. We would play for hours making these elaborate creations. These experiences building with my hands and figuring things out and developing skills got me excited about engineering,” reminisced Chen.

Unfortunately, Chen has experienced some resistance to her calling. “Being a female engineer, a big problem is how surprised people are when they hear I’m an engineer,” expressed Chen. “I kind of dread that question of ‘what do you do’ when I meet somebody. A lot of times people are intimidated, or maybe they think I’m weird. But it’s important to let girls know they can do it. It’s important they see female role models.”

To that Planchard responds, “We need to treat female engineers like normal. Just treat them like an engineer.”

Mcor Printer Helps Reach Low Income STEM Girls

Mcor’s Director of Marketing Julie Reece talks in front of Mcor’s paper-based 3D printer about getting girls into STEM at a younger age.

On the Solidworks World product design floor, the paper-based 3D printer company Mcor also showed their support for getting girls into STEM. Mcor’s Director of Marketing, Julie Reece said, “That’s what’s ultimately really important here; get students young. Get the girls young! Get the boys young! Get them interested and energized into technology.”

Reece went on to describe a program to get Mcor printers into schools for free, or as close to free as possible, for a three year period. With affordable access to Mcor’s printers, and cheap supplies readily available in their communities, schools would have the perfect tool to bridge both economic and gender gaps. “That is critical,” said Reece. “One of the benefits of paper is that it’s widely accessible. You don’t get it from us, you get it from Staples.”

When closing her speech to the general assembly, Planchard said, “In the Solidworks community we have an opportunity to not only help women in the engineering profession, but to increase this younger, diverse talent to help your business and support our future in an even larger Solidworks community.”

The message, and all the other calls to increase women in engineering seemed to work. Planchard noted that “We have a lot of guys out there that now asked me about how they can help their daughters, nieces, and friends next door get interested in engineering. It starts at home.”

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