Women account for only 30 percent of those working in the tech industry, based on diversity reports filed by 11 of the largest tech companies, according to CNET. Yet women make up 51 percent of the U.S. population and 59 percent of the U.S. Labor force. Increasing the percentage of women in technology — including leadership positions — is one of the challenges schools and companies face today.
Those are the underlying facts behind 2015 Millennium Girls, an event sponsored by State Farm this month. Several Arizona State University students volunteered in the daylong annual conference that encourages fifth through eighth grade girls to consider careers in math, science, technology and business. The girls participate in a variety of fun, hands-on labs utilizing the latest technology. Research suggests that girls exposed to opportunities in STEM at a young age are more likely to pursue careers in these important fields.
Clinical Assistant Professor Kathleen Moser explained that alumnus Samantha Roska (B.A. Business Law, B.S. CIS), who works at State Farm, approached the ASU Women in STEM club and the Department of Information Systems to see if any students wanted to help with the event. STEM club member Diana Reyes (Computer Sciences, Math) took the lead coordinating between State Farm and the students.
The event was staged in Bloomington, Illinois, but the State Farm office in Tempe was linked via live video conferencing. Several ASU STEM majors, including Alexandria Yotter (CIS, BDA) and Yosheli Mendoza Radilla (BDA, Accountancy, Finance) participated. In Illinois, the girls arrived for breakfast, attended labs before and after lunch and visited the TechYes Café, where schools and companies with STEM opportunities for women set up booths for the Millennium Girls participants to visit during their mid-day break.
Every year Millennium Girls provides four different labs focusing on exciting and unique skills within the STEM and business fields. In 2003, State Farm took the lead on running the program. Illinois State University started this event in the spring of 1999 and holds the registered trademark on the name. More than 200 girls attended the conference.
This year, the ASU students provided a lab to teach the girls about the creative design process, teamwork and basic marketing concepts.
The ASU group created a lab activity called “Mystery Grab Bag.” Each team of two or three was provided with a bag of materials from which to build an invention that can be used in daily life. The girls first designed their ideas on paper, built the product, gave it a name and developed a promotional presentation to advertise it.
“The girls were really quick with their ideas — they were thinking on their feet,” Moser said. She added that everybody had fun talking with each other using the virtual connection — a perfect technology touch!
While the judges decided on a winner, the groups discussed the design/build/promote process, the importance of teamwork and issues faced in bringing their invention to market. Inventions included Up Your Sleeve, a wrist iPhone holder, Straw EZ, an easier way to open a milk carton, Disaster Distractor, a device that re-directs pesky younger siblings, a novel lipstick applicator and the most talked about invention — a zombie eater! Observers said it was difficult to determine who was having more fun; the girls or the lab instructors, assistants and judges.
Other labs included Dollars and $ense (learning about the stock market to see how the value of your money changes over time), Rube Goldberg (creating machines that will perform a simple task) and Code girl$ are $mart (creating a webpage using HTML and CSS).