Rowan in AWE about girls in engineering

Rowan in AWE about girls in engineering

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They are not supposed to like science, technology and engineering -- that’s what generations of girls have been told or assumed.

But for two decades, Attracting Women into Engineering in the Henry M. Rowan College of Engineering at Rowan University has been telling them just the opposite.

Founded in 1998 and offering its first sessions in 1999, AWE has provided summer programs on the fundamentals of engineering to about 100 middle school girls during three one-day sessions each July (July 24-26 this year, with attendees from Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cumberland, Gloucester and Ocean counties in New Jersey and from Philadelphia.).

“Our mission is to cultivate young girls’ interest in engineering by sparking and igniting their imagination,” said Dr. Kauser Jahan, program founder and a professor in and department head of Civil & Environmental Engineering. (Co-founders were Drs. Linda Head, Jennifer Kadlowec, Zenaida Gephardt and Beena Sukumaran.)

Hands-on activities and special events coordinated by faculty, staff and Rowan Engineering students expose girls to the diverse career paths that engineers pursue while fostering an environment of intellectual growth, self-esteem and empowerment.

Melanie Basantis, Rowan Engineering’s outreach director and AWE coordinator for about 15 years, said, “We do this because girls tend to lose interest in science and math while in middle school, according to research. We try to show girls, through serious but fun experiments, that engineering is a field worth studying and an exciting profession to enter. An added benefit of AWE is the girls learn they are not the only ones out there with the same interests.”

This year, AWE added a new element, offering scholarships to Girls Inc. for 13 girls from underrepresented populations in tech fields to attend the program. The scholarships to the Nashville-based nonprofit with a presence in Philadelphia and Camden will enable girls from Camden to attend the program.

Basantis said AWE has lived out its mission well. Among graduates of the program are students studying engineering, health, natural sciences and mathematics. In a survey of past participants, close to 60 percent of AWE alumnae indicated they entered science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines, and about 90 percent said that participation in AWE influenced or somewhat influenced their decision.

Noted one alum, “AWE helped me realize there are other girls who share my interest in the physical and mechanical sciences. If there are other girls out there in all male classes, doing what I'm doing, then it can't be wrong ... sometimes the gender gap would make me shy away from pursuing something. Now, I have no qualms about being female in a male-dominated field.”

And another said, “Before [AWE], I didn't know anything about engineering. It completely inspired me to pursue engineering. Because of [AWE], I took as many honors science and math courses as I could throughout high school and then attended Rowan for my engineering degree.”

The Engineering Information Foundation provided initial funding for AWE, which Atlantic City Electric also supported. PSEG has been the primary sponsor for the last half dozen years.

“Promoting STEM and engineering careers is so important, especially for girls and young women,” said PSEG Nuclear Communications Director Joseph Delmar. “We’re proud to support AWE and how it makes engineering fun and more importantly a possible career path that they may not have pursued previously.”