There’s NO Heavy Lifting in Electrical Engineering and Other Harsh Truths about Technology
Women in Wireless Special Interest Group (SIG) as a part of the Wireless Technology Forum volunteered for our first official service project, in partnership with GSMA and ChickTech. We helped teens from middle school to high school build their own Google voice assistants from Raspberry Pis and Google AIY Voice kits.
Check out the bright, happy, shiny faces of these teens at the event on March 24, 2018.
Behind the scenes
Hopefully, you can't tell from the video, but at least 50% of the girls are on free or reduced lunch programs at school. Each teen girl was carefully nominated by her teacher as having an 'aptitude for technology,' but without the means to get tech exposure.
What did it take to get to this point? Magic?
Did the equipment, materials, and the teachers magically appear on one fine day?
Far from it. Let's rewind.
Summer 2017 - GSMA's Carlos Bosch requests a meeting with Wireless Technology Forum 's president, Caroline Dunn, to discuss STEM and females in wireless. Agenda: Move the needle for women in wireless technology education.
Late Summer 2017 - Melissa Sorrentino and myself (Caroline Dunn) start a series of meetings to form the Women in Wireless SIG, and we set forth our Women in Wireless SIG Vision - "Women creating a new generation of Female Technology Thought Leaders."
We create the intent for Women in Wireless SIG to partner with a non-profit to bring technology workshops to underprivileged teen girls.
What could we do to affect change and increase female interest in technology? Good question, I’ve only been asked this question only about million times as one of 18% of female Electrical Engineering graduates from Georgia Tech.
STEM programs have been around for over a decade. Has the needle moved? Yes, the needle has moved, but that doesn’t mean we stop now. Female engineers are still less than 20% of graduates and females in the workforce and are leaving at an alarming 40% rate according to HuffPost. More alarming, female engineering undergraduates in the UK are on a downward trend to drop to 9% by 2030!
What are the limiting factors for females in technology?
- It is not heavy lifting. There is no heavy lifting in Electrical Engineering. My breadboard only weighs 12 ounces. Unless you are trying to lift a CRT monitor from the 90s, there is no heavy lifting in Electrical Engineering.
- Is technology fun and interesting, or boring and unpleasant? How is your mobile phone not fun and interesting?
- Exposure - Technology costs MONEY!!! The best things in the world are free, but technology ain’t one of those things. Kids from affluent families are more likely to be exposed to technology at an earlier age.
- Math and science as school subjects needs to get “COOL” again. When was math and science ever cool? Point taken, but nevertheless, the perception feeds reality and somewhere a long the line, some misinformation was injected into our main stream society of ”un-coolness.” Where’s Professor Proton when you need him (or her)? Furthermore, there’s this bizarre misconception out there that, “Girls aren’t good at math.” What could be further from the truth?
October/November 2017 - Melissa and I form Women in Wireless SIG and recruit 12 Founding Members: Diane Estner, Kit Johnson, Alecia Bridgwater, Elizabeth Simpson, Alecia Booth, Reina Lingle, Britney Morgan, Kayla Merritt, Janine Whiteman, Sabina Saksena, Charity Pulliam, and Neeli Shah.
We agree on 2 points. 1) Need more females in wireless, and 2) we want to help the needy with technology. What we can realistically do with a small group that understands that there is a need for more STEM programs for underprivileged girls?
How can technology break the poverty cycle?
Getting a college education is critical to more means, but if a student could select a major with a higher starting salary (with a bachelor's degree), they could more quickly leave the poverty cycle. The best way to do that, is to major in a degree program that pays the highest starting salary.
According to Forbes, "The top-paying bachelor’s degree, by the numbers, is electrical engineering."
I volunteered at a STEM event previously, and noticed that all of the parents pulled upon a Saturday morning in their German vehicles, paid the fee for their daughter(s) to attend the event; everyone was happy and it was a successful event.
With means comes opportunity.
Let's hypothetically look at a 3-4 hour event for $25/child on a Saturday morning. First of all, these parents either have no car, or they have to work on Saturday morning at their 2nd job. How will they get their daughter to the STEM program? Second challenge, $25. $25 might not seem like a lot of money to you, but $25 might be more than a parent can make in 3-4 hours on minimum wage.
One of the hardest conversations I had with Carlos Bosch (in the planning stage) was about transportation to the event. Transportation? What? I had to explain that the parents of the girls we wanted to help (many in single parent households), wouldn't be able to transport their daughters to North of Atlanta on a Saturday morning, because either, 1) parent doesn't have a car, or 2) parent is working his/her 2nd job on Saturday.
If you have a roof over your head, money in the bank, and ONLY work ONE job, you're much better off than the parents of these girls.
Everybody's Favorite Radio Station: WIIFM (What's In It For Me?)
Answer: Sunshine and Rainbows! If helping a girl break out of the cycle of poverty isn't enough, then stay home. If your only interest is to learn for yourself and your family, no problem!
Here are some great resources for adults to learn about technology.
- Wireless Technology Forum. For only $99/year, get 11 panel discussions on the latest tech trends in Wireless, mobile, IoT, AR/VR/MR, smart cities, wearables, big data, etc… Women members get an additional 10 meetings for Women in Wireless panel discussions, all for only $99/year.
- YouTube. You can literally watch hundreds, if not thousands of hours of step-by-step tutorials on YouTube from the comfort and convenience of your own home. Pause, rewind, fast forward at your own pace. Here are a few of my recommendations:
But I do I get my hands on those fancy computer components shown in those YouTube videos? Easy, almost every YouTube personality publishes a parts / materials list in the description of their video with direct links to the materials.
- MakerSpaces - check out your local area for MakerSpaces where hobbyists come together and collaborate on various projects. Most offer classes for free or minimal costs to get started. Decatur Makers, Freeside Atlanta, and The Maker Station are just a few examples.
What does this all mean?
As of today, I’m launching a fake t-shirt campaign. You can buy the t-shirt right here.
[t-shirt pic here]
The money goes direct to the t-shirt maker and no one else.
Not my best idea. But I got your attention, right?
Instead of asking for $$$, I'm asking for you to help those less fortunate and teach someone technology. If this means teaching yourself first, all the better. I've provided resources in my article above. Join Women in Wireless SIG and Wireless Technology Forum as we team up for this effort.
Special Thanks to all of the volunteers from GSMA, ChickTech and Women in Wireless SIG.
Women in Wireless Volunteers: Caroline Dunn Melissa Sorrentino Elizabeth Simpson Reina Lingle Susan Asher Alecia Bridgwater
GSMA: Ana Tavares Lattibeaudiere Carlos Bosch Eliza Chisholm Stein Soelberg Trevor Skinner
ChickTech: Marian Scott Britney Morgan