Girl power

ANDERSON – Leaning over a box full of Lego pieces, Lilian McVay picked up a long plastic girder and stuck it on a robotic arm.

It was the last day before fall break, but unlike most of her friends at Fishers High School who had skipped out to get an extra day of vacation, 14-year-old McVay was working hard on building a Lego robot to eventually code to complete an obstacle course.

“Everyone else left early for fall break, and I was like, no, I am going to come do this, it sounds like fun and I like working with coding,” she said. “I am not regretting my decision.”

McVay was one of a couple dozen high school girls from across Indiana working in teams to design, build and code Lego robots at the Make like a Girl event at Purdue Polytechnic on Friday.

“Make like a Girl attendees will learn how ‘technology’ is more than just the latest gadgets,” said Corey Sharp, director of Purdue Polytechnic Anderson. “Technology is a way of thinking about today’s challenges and overcoming them with innovation, creativity and problem-solving skills.”

Purdue Polytechnic Anderson alumni and local female leaders in tech industries also joined the workshop for lunch to share their experiences in the often male-dominated field and discuss job opportunities.

Although the number of female engineers today has improved since the early 1980s, when only 5.8 percent of engineers in the U.S. were women, it’s still low. Currently, only 14 percent of engineers are women, according to the Congressional Joint Economic Committee.

But Sharp and others in technology education are trying to get young women involved in engineering from an early age in an effort to make STEM education and employment more accessible to girls starting young.

“In history classes and textbooks you don’t see a lot of women in history," said Elaine Hardman, 15, from Delta High School. "I don’t think people see how women impact science.”

But events and classes like Friday’s, with hands-on learning and access to women already working in the fields, are helping to change that.

“I feel like people are trying to say we can do this,” Hardman said.

For Nikki Bowdell, one of the adult team leaders, the event was unlike anything she had access to when she was in high school.

“Boys always had Legos when I was growing up, but not so much for girls,” she said. “There was nothing like this.”

So when a former professor at Purdue Polytechnic, where Bowdell graduated with a degree in the engineering field, called to ask if she was interested in leading a group, she jumped at the chance.

“Just getting hands-on for girls is good,” she said. “Hopefully it can make the field more accessible.”