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Girls participate in STEM workshops offered during Delaware’s DigiGirlz Day.
Girls participate in STEM workshops offered during Delaware’s DigiGirlz Day.

UD at the 2019 DigiGirlz Day

Photo courtesy of Delaware Department of Technology and Information

University groups help young women learn about STEM opportunities

Katherine Hudson was in high school when she participated in a program designed to spark interest in science, technology, engineering and math among girls. Years later, Hudson is now a University of Delaware doctoral student studying marine science and on May 15, she will join the UD delegation at the 2019 DigiGirlz Day at Delaware Technical Community College’s Owens Campus.

“Learning about many different aspects of science and having the opportunity to get hands-on experience in many different areas was fun at that time,” said Hudson, who will teach a marine robotics workshop at DigiGirlz Day, where she hopes to spark that same excitement and enjoyment of science in the girls that participate. “It doesn't need to be marine science, just science in general. I hope that they walk away with the understanding that anyone can be a scientist, regardless of gender, and that there are so many fields of science to get involved in — many more than their science classes can begin to cover.”

Organizers expect about 150 girls between the ages of 13 and 15 to participate in the Delaware’s DigiGirlz Day, which is a Microsoft YouthSpark program. The event is free and designed to connect girls with female role models in STEM workshops. UD offers more than 100 bachelor’s degree programs in STEM-related fields that can give UD students an economic and vocational edge.

The STEM advantage

Young adults awarded degrees in STEM fields tend to experience more positive economic outcomes, such as higher median earnings, than their counterparts receiving degrees in non-STEM fields. Graduates with STEM degrees also tend to be employed within their field more often and for a longer duration.

According to a recent report from the National Center for Education Statistics, 1.8 million bachelor’s degrees were awarded in 2015-2016, with approximately 331,000 (18 percent) conferred in STEM fields. Women were awarded a higher percentage of bachelor’s degrees overall compared to men (58 vs. 42 percent), but women got only 36 percent of the STEM degrees. The NCES report said, “This pattern — in which females received higher percentages of bachelor’s degrees overall but lower percentages of bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields — was observed across all racial/ethnic groups.”

This trend has remained consistent for well over a decade, regardless of degree level conferred, and is one that state agencies and local institutions, including UD, hope to change through events like DigiGirlz Day.

Hands on and tech strong

At the DigiGirlz Day event, girls will participate in hands-on programs of their choice and listen to panelists such as April Walker, Microsoft Technology Center director; Brooke Plummer, Beebe Healthcare wellness coach; and Stephanie Dohner, UD graduate research assistant, who will share information on STEM fields and offer general career advice. Program activities will include marine robotics, squishy circuits, drones, 3D printing and chemistry. Activities are designed to expose the girls to skills required in STEM fields — such as critical thinking, programming and logic — and to encourage a passion for STEM. The event is free to all attendees, including chaperones and adults.

At the heart of the day’s planning and partnerships is UD’s new Women in Technology (WIT) organization. Launched in October 2018, the WIT organization brings UD faculty and staff together to advocate for WIT and diversity, develop opportunities and empower future WIT generations. UD’s WIT has partnered with Delaware's Department of Technology and Information (DTI), Microsoft, and other local institutions and sponsors to plan Delaware’s 2019 DigiGirlz Day. In addition, WIT partners with Newark High School to provide technology workshops for young women and is actively developing partnerships with other groups that advocate for women at UD and WIT groups at other institutions, including the University of Pennsylvania, Temple University and Villanova.

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