Today, approximately 650 middle school and high school science students will come to USC to take part in a laser and optics interactive fair. Sounds wonky? It isn't. Optics and laser technologies are the technologies on our smartphone screens and smartphone cameras and are influencing the future of self-driving cars. According to the industry organization SPIE, the size of the photonics and laser industry is expected to grow to over $650 billion by 2020.
The question is how many of the young girls who will attend this laser event will continue to pursue their love of science and technology? As reported by the Huffington Post, many are confronted by the old engineering stereotypes and deterred by obsolete, pre-conceived, outdated and plainly wrong ideas about who pursues scientific careers. Regrettably, according to the article, young women in engineering have to spend too much time defending their interest in the field. This is unacceptable, it should never be the case; and it is ultimately against the prosperity of our nation. For all the young girls being scared off by ideas of who becomes an engineer and what engineers do, here are seven reasons why you should simply ignore what some people might say and pursue your love of engineering:
1) Engineering Professor Andrea Armani, who develops lasers and instruments to observe DNA changes in real time in order to detect changes cells for diseases such as cancer.
2) Engineering Professor Maryam Shanechi, who is attacking neurological diseases such as depression or neurological injuries by developing brain-machine interfaces. One day Shanechi's innovation might lead to a paralyzed person using their thoughts to move their paralyzed limb.
3) Alison Glazer -- an engineering student, Glazer leads a student club which produces 3D-printed prosthetic hands for injured children, in places such as Syria and Haiti (and Los Angeles).
4) Engineering Professor Maja Mataric and her doctoral student Jillian Greczek in USC's Interaction Lab (part of Robotics and Autonomous Systems Center) who are collaborating with Children's Hospital of Los Angeles to have interactive robots relieve the anxiety children feel when they are getting an IV inserted. Mataric's team is also developing socially assistive robots for children with autism and companions for elderly family members who might live alone.
5) 148 Engineering Schools (and the White House) which in collaboration with the American Society of Engineering Education, came together to pledge to develop diversity plans and better pipelines of talent from women and segments of our society under-represented in engineering. They presented their plan at the White House's first-ever Demo Day for entrepreneurs.
6) Many Fortune 500 CEOs have engineering degrees instead of degrees in business, finance or law.
7) And if the examples above don't convince you -- maybe this will. The National Academy of Engineering has identified 14 Grand Challenges for Engineering for extending life in our planet as we know it and for the advancement of humankind. These Challenges include engineering better medicines, advancing health informatics, securing cyberspace, providing access to clean water, making solar energy economical and reverse-engineering the brain among others. These challenges will only be solved by our top brains and that means all the top brains. Not just by one gender -- or much less than half of our creative capital. With your engagement, our innovation capacity will grow much greater through the diversity and richness of your thoughts and ideas.
The late National Academy of Engineering President Chuck Vest said, "We live in the most exciting time for science and engineering in human history." Talented individuals, many young girls among them, should not miss out.