Engineering Encounter -- Middle school girls from throughout the Charleston metropolitan area gather for a day of learning and exploration at BridgeValley Community and Technical College.
Toyota, at its core, is an engineering company. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it actively looks for ways to promote the engineering profession.
Case in point: For the sixth consecutive year, Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia (TMMWV) participated in “Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day,” held on the Thursday of National Engineers Week in February. This time around, two of the plant’s female engineers—Jean Preston
and Penny Potocki
—joined more than 20 of their colleagues from companies throughout the greater Charleston metropolitan area to mingle with some 150 eighth grade girls from 14 middle schools across southern West Virginia. BridgeValley Community and Technical College hosted the event on its Charleston campus.
Words of Wisdom -- Millie Marshall, TMMWV president and an engineer herself, addresses the "Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day" attendees.
“We wanted to show these girls the vast opportunities that are out there for them in what is still considered a male-dominated field,” says Melissa Thompson, associate professor and outreach director at the college.
According to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), only about one in five college-level engineering students is a woman. Still, that’s a huge improvement over the 1980s when the ratio was closer to one in 20. The ASME says the keys to continued progress include introducing girls to female engineering role models, dispelling misconceptions of what it’s like to be an engineer, creating more technical problem-solving opportunities and instilling more confidence in girls, especially when competing with boys.
“Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day” checks all of those boxes.
Building Interest -- The participants formed teams that were challenged to build roller coasters with the parts provided, testing their aptitude for engineering.
Preston and Potocki, for example, each worked with small groups of girls, encouraging them to ask questions about why they decided to pursue a career in engineering and what their day-to-day jobs are actually like. They also guided the students in various games designed to draw out their natural engineering skills, such as building a mini-roller coaster and stacking cups.
“The girls get to come and just be themselves,” says Thompson. “They do fun activities and learn from women who have gone through college and are now working in fields they might aspire to someday.”
Sandra Maynard, specialist in TMMWV External Affairs, says participation in this event is an outward expression of the plant’s inner values on this front. Preston and Potocki simply followed in the footsteps of other TMMWV female engineers who have volunteered in past years. That includes Millie Marshall
, a 25-year veteran of Toyota who was named president of the plant in 2013.
“As a woman coming from a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) career, I see the need to encourage young women to pursue these careers by demonstrating what STEM jobs look like and their benefits,” says Marshall. “Toyota provides engineers to support programs like ‘Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day’ to help show the real-life implication of STEM and share information about their actual job duties. Companies like Toyota must lead and be a strong collaborator with our education partners to ensure young women and students today embrace STEM in our schools and community.”
By Dan Miller