Buckeye’s Verrado High School is encouraging girls to dream big in a male-dominated field by offering all-female engineering classes.
Mark Adams teaches five engineering classes, two of which are geared toward young women. They are the only ones in the Agua Fria Union High School District.
Adams’ goal is to promote the nontraditional student, which in this case, is a representation of the girls.
“To know that shortage is out there and to see that I can generate interest in them is exciting,” said Adams, who has taught at Verrado since 2016, the same year the female engineering courses began.
Verrado senior Loren Kueker enrolled in her first engineering class as a sophomore to fill her credits. The class was co-ed.
“It was very hands-on and solving problems,” she said. “Which I’ve learned that I’m really good at. I really clicked with it.”
Kueker said, in her experience, a group of girls works much more efficiently and is able to accomplish tasks at a much faster pace.
Junior Kaitlyn Mitchell also found her passion for engineering in the co-ed class she took her freshman year.
She said three years of engineering classes have given her valuable opportunities. She hopes to parlay her knowledge into improving music venues.
Mitchell said, in her freshman year, she was one of two girls in an engineering class of about 35.
“Being with the girls, not only is it more comfortable, but it’s cool having this many girls interested in a male-dominated field,” she said.
Mitchell said she has participated in the Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) program through ASU.
In EPICS, teams are presented with real-life engineering simulations they must solve. They are then judged on elements such as innovation and efficiency.
Mitchell and Kueker see Adams as a mentor, providing them with opportunities to grow. He also brings in other experts to learn from. For example, he invites women from the industry to speak to the girls for honest talk about the field.
“He pushes us a lot, wants us to do our best work,” Kueker said. “He wants to see us succeed.”
There are 59 girls between the two all-female classes Adams teaches, he said. In his fifth-hour class of 31 girls, 70 percent are freshmen.
“My part is to let them know you dream whatever you want to dream, and we’ll make it happen,” he added. “If they can dream it, they can do it.”
Adams also coordinated after-school STEM activities. Verrado’s STEM students have participated in Arizona SciTech, Buckeye Air Fair, ASU’s Young Engineers Shape the World (YESW), and EPICS, according to Adams.
In addition, the University of Arizona offers dual enrollment credit to juniors and seniors in the engineering program at Verrado High School. This credit is also accepted at other Arizona universities, Adams said.
ASU has seen an increase in women enrollment in undergraduate engineering programs, according to Tirupalavanam Ganesh, assistant dean of engineering education at ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.
As of fall 2017, Ganesh said 3,370 women enrolled in the undergraduate engineering program, up from 908 in fall 2009.
“We care about women in engineering because diversity of experience, diversity of background makes a difference in how problems are solved,” he said.
“Broadening participation in engineering can only increase the potential for the types of solutions that would come out.”
Ganesh added ASU presents numerous opportunities for students to understand what engineering is all about.
Last year, ASU reached more than 17,000 students in the K-12 system from sponsoring events to hosting summer programs and fieldtrips to its own engineering school, according to Ganesh.
He said traditionally, women haven’t seen themselves as engineers or even been shown opportunities they could and should pursue.
“This whole notion of diversity is all about making sure the participation in engineering is broadened,” he said. “That will change how these problems are solved. It’s about including people in the innovation enterprise.”