Maya Rozenshteyn, Patrick Henry High School (PHHS) SWENext Club President, enjoys attending local STEM events; however, she found it difficult to understand why girls at her school and in the community were not taking advantage of any of these amazing opportunities. After meeting local Society of Women Engineers (SWE) collegiate members, Maya decided to create a SWENext club.
“We recruited over 50 girls during our school’s club fair. The best part is knowing that we are making a difference. At the last local STEM event, nine times more girls from my school attended as compared to last year. Next year we plan to spark even more interest by holding a SWENext recruiting event at our feeder middle schools,” Maya said.
Hello, my name is Maya Rozenshteyn and I am the president and founder of Patrick Henry High School’s SWENext Club. Over the past couple of years, I have attended many local STEM events. These events were open to all San Diego high school students, yet a significantly more of the attendees were male than female. In fact, I was the only girl from my school in attendance. I did not understand why other girls at my school and in San Diego were not taking advantage of any of these amazing opportunities.
Even as someone who had attended many of these events, I still had not been exposed to many different types of engineering and had received almost no information about what it was like to be a female in a STEM field. I wanted to do something to change this, find a way to get more girls at my school involved, and connect them to females in these fields - collegiates and professionals.
In years past, various organizations had attempted to create such a program at my school. However, none of them had managed to organize a club that had a lasting impact. I knew I had to take a different approach in order to be successful.
At a community STEM event, I had the pleasure of meeting representatives from a local SWE section. They told me about the SWENext program, and how I could use SWE’s resources to create the kind of club I wanted. They also told me that what I was experiencing was not just a local problem. There is a serious gender gap in STEM fields.
After hearing this, I contacted a previous engineering teacher. I told her about the problems I had seen and the solutions I had for them. She loved my ideas, and a few days later, we filled out and submitted the forms to make our SWENext Club official. I then created a website and a poster board for the club as ways to introduce it to girls at my school. We used them to promote our new club at the school’s club fair, where more than 50 girls signed up without hesitation! They said that they were interested in STEM, but had not known about all of the opportunities that were out there. Some of them were not even in the school’s engineering classes.
Since then, we have had many more girls sign up, and our club is in now in the middle of its third successful month. We have had guest speakers from a plethora of industries, including engineering management, construction, and transportation, and we are working with numerous individuals and organizations to get more. Recruiting speakers is by far the most difficult aspect of the club. Although I have found that there are so many people that are just as passionate about exposing girls to STEM as I am, it is challenging for them to take time out of their busy schedules to come and speak to us. This is one way in which I have utilized and look forward to continuing to utilize the SWE network: to connect our club with industry professionals and other SWENext Clubs.
We have also introduced various opportunities to our girls. We post links to high tech fairs, STEM festivals, physics workshops, and other upcoming events on our website and talk about them at our monthly meetings. At an annual San Diego STEM event, nine times more girls from my school attended this year in comparison to last year! We are also looking to do outreach events at our feeder schools, so that we can start sparking interest at a young age.
Concurrently, we will have events for parents and teachers, so that they have the tools they need to facilitate girls’ newfound interest in STEM. We feel that this is very important because seven out of 10 elementary school-aged girls say that they are interested in STEM, yet only two will go on to pursue a career in a STEM field.
One of the main reasons girls don’t pursue careers in STEM is that we are unknowingly pushing them away similar to the #InspireHerMind Verizon TV commercial. We teach them about male inventors and neglect all things woman-made. We tell girls to play with Barbie dolls while their brothers get to play with cars and robots. Our culture has decided that girls should not be allowed to handle power tools, conduct science experiments, or build amazing contraptions.
Even people who are all for women in STEM have been affected by these stereotypes. I, for one, have questioned my actions while embarking on engineering ventures. I have thought to myself, “Should I really be doing this? Is this more of a boy thing? If other girls saw me doing this would they laugh and call me names?” I love engineering, so why were these negative thoughts running through my head? It’s because I was afraid of defying the standards that society had set for me, but after connecting with so many different female STEM professionals, I realize that I have little to fear. Hopefully, through the help of clubs like mine and organizations like SWE, other girls will realize this too and we can begin to close the gender gap in STEM fields.
Creating a Grassroots, Student-Driven SWENext Club
Maya is the driving force behind creating the SWENext Club at her high school. She gets guidance from her former engineering teacher, and club advisor, who helped get the club recognized by the school and other school organizations. Maya says the hardest part for her is connecting with engineering professionals who could potentially speak at monthly club meetings.
Harnessing the Power of SWE
Because this was a grassroots initiative, Maya only knew about one of the four SWE sections in San Diego: SWE-SDSU. Now she knows about the other three SWE sections: SWE-UCSD, SWE-USD, and SWE-San Diego. She’s also connected to other local community events such as the Regional Conference, AWIS, etc. She has added a link to the PHHS club website to the SWE-San Diego website. She also registered to receive local SWE e-news updates and became a member of SWENext.
SWENext is a way to become part of the Society of Women Engineers as a student through the age of 18. Become part of SWE and #BeThatEngineer! Joining is free. Families and educators play a key role in the success of SWENexters. The SWENext program offers resources and information for adult advocates as well.
Who can be a SWENexter?
Any student 13 or older may join SWENext. For those younger than 13, a parent will need to be the primary contact.
Who can support a SWENexter?