Listen up, girls! Engineering is cool!
That’s the message that GoldieBlox inventor Debbie Sterling, a Stanford University-educated engineer, is passionate about sharing. Designed for girls ages six and older, GoldieBlox is a storybook and construction set that challenges girls to help the inventor protagonist Goldie, build things.
We can all remember reading childhood fairy tales about princesses in distress ultimately being rescued by Prince Charming. Imagine if Rapunzel spent her imprisonment using her engineering skills to design and develop a zip line for a window escape or a 3D model of a key to unlock the tower door, instead of waiting for her prince to rescue her?
And what if Snow White spent her days developing an advanced mining system for the Seven Dwarfs instead of housecleaning and cooking? We made progress when the mom on The Cosby Show was a successful lawyer. Wouldn’t it be great if her best friend was a robotics professor or rocket scientist at NASA? How many little girls would have grown up with different career aspirations if exposed to female engineer role models at a young age?
According to “STEM Education: Preparing for the Jobs of the Future,” a report from the Congressional Joint Economic Committee, female engineers represent only about 14 percent of the total engineering workforce. The study also notes that women are less likely than men to pursue degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines and that women’s increased participation in the STEM workforce is essential to alleviating the shortage of STEM workers.
What’s the secret sauce to fixing this? Suggestions include improving the quality and quantity of STEM educators, placing a greater emphasis on communicating the benefits of STEM education, providing more opportunities to engage in STEM-related activities, such as science fairs, projects, and clubs, mentoring, and providing more female role models.
Natalie Panek, a robotic operator and aerospace engineer at MDA Space Missions, suggests placing inspiring women in the spotlight via TV or social media to provide girls with female role models in technology professions.
GoldieBlox goes beyond “girlitizing” a traditional boy’s toy (e.g. pink LEGOs) and provides that missing role model who can capture the attention of impressionable young girls and expose them to the field of engineering in a fun way.
Growing up, my exposure to engineering was the image of “Choo Choo Charlie,” a railroad engineer in a candy commercial. I had no context to relate engineering to things I used and encountered in everyday life.
After eight years at PTC, I find myself appreciating “rounds” in automotive surfaces when commuting in traffic and explaining the role of engineering in my daughter’s MP3 player or the design of my son’s LeBraun X basketball sneakers. By exposing girls to engineering in a way they can relate to, we can influence their consideration of engineering as a career path.
GoldieBlox appeals to girls’ inclination to be helpful. Sterling’s first book, GoldieBlox and the Spinning Machine, revolves around Goldie’s goal of creating a “spinning machine” for her dog Nacho, who enjoys chasing his tail. To accomplish this goal, Goldie takes apart a ballerina music box and uses the parts to create the spinning machine. After she succeeds in creating a spinning machine for her dog, she does the same for the rest of the five characters in the story.
At each stage in the process, girls are encouraged to follow along, creating their own spinning toys with the colorful construction set featuring a pegboard, wheels, axles, blocks, a crank, a ribbon, and washers. Future books are planned to feature a pulley system elevator, a parade float and circuits and gears.
GoldieBlox may not be the magic cure, but she’s certainly a step in the right direction. Consider GoldieBlox the next time you’re buying a gift for a young girl in your life – it may be life changing for her and for the world she will impact in the future.