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February 7, 2013
Northern Nash High students explore engineering with MIT Students

Female students at Northern Nash High School recently had the chance to take a closer look at the engineering field as a possible career. Kelsey Boulanger and Ashley Smith, two MIT engineering students, stopped by the school to encourage the female students to explore STEM related fields.

For 11th grader Myra Slep, the presentation provided exposure to a diverse span of engineering work.

"It was interactive and interesting, and I actually wanted to hear what they had to say," said Slep. "I thought it was a male dominated field, and it is, but I realize there are more opportunities for women. I did not recognize how many fields there are."

Boulanger and Smith are part of the Women's Initiative at MIT, a student group dedicated to encouraging more women to purse degrees and careers in engineering. As part of the program, women from MIT's School of Engineering travel across the nation to speak with middle and high school girls.

"If a girl is interested in math and science but doesn't know what engineering is, our goal is to capture that and provide them with an idea of what to major in." said Boulanger. "It's important for young women to realize how many opportunities are open to them--a lot of times the only careers that they are exposed to are through the media. Boulanger is a graduate student studying environmental engineering.

Northern Nash High School science teacher Sadie McCleary initiated the visit to school in partnering with several schools from surrounding districts. McCleary said she was pleased with the information presented, and the connections that students made between what they are currently learning, and what they might do in the future.

"The presentation not only sent a message to our girls that they are capable of choosing a major such as engineering, but it dispelled the pervasive idea that the hard sciences are for males and life sciences for females," said McCleary. "The presenters were both young, empowered and intelligent women who my girls could relate to and even see themselves becoming in 5-10 years. We were so pleased that they chose our region to visit and hope they continue their work in empowering young women."

The presentations include activities to engage students in thinking about engineering concepts, demonstrations of projects on which the presenters have worked, and information about the different engineering fields and the life of an engineering student.

Smith, an undergraduate student studying computer engineering, hopes she and Boulanger can continue to help break down potential barriers for female students who enjoy science and math

"We want to encourage more girls to consider a career in engineering. The media often portrays engineers as nerdy, white males with glasses and weird friends, someone we are supposed to make fun of. We want to show them that this stereotype is wrong. Anyone can be an engineer, and engineers are awesome."