The top team at this past year’s Dream It Do It 500 was four female Hinsdale Central School students — even though girls have historically only accounted for about 35 percent of competitors at the annual engineering competition.
Evelyn Sabina, Dream It Do It Western New York project coordinator, said she saw that same scenario play out at many of the organization's activities, camps and competitions: few girls, but the girls that did participate flourished.
“So I thought: There’s something disconnected here,” Sabina said, “there’s not as many coming yet they have the potential and ability.”
A $115,848 grant will help DIDI-WNY encourage local girls to not only participate in its educational programs, but also to eventually pursue careers in male-dominated fields like science, technology, engineering and math.
The grant, awarded last fall by the Appalachian Regional Commission, will create the Girls in Manufacturing program, which will use tours, clubs, presentations, activities, camps and newly-purchased equipment to inspire girls ages nine to 14 to consider a career in advanced manufacturing. The program will be a collaboration between DIDI-WNY and local school districts and manufacturers.
“We’re all passionate about girls having opportunities,” said Hinsdale Central School Principal Laurie Cuddy, whose students had their first Girls in Manufacturing Club meeting after school Thursday, “opportunities that maybe we didn’t have when we were growing up that can send them out of our rural area, get training and come back and help support the businesses we have here.”
The program’s roots go back to 2016. Sabina was assisted in the lengthy application process by Southern Tier West Regional Planning and Development Board, which annually vets project proposals submitted to ARC from municipalities and non-profit organizations across Cattaraugus, Allegany and Chautauqua counties.
ARC is a federal program that assists 420 counties in 13 states across Appalachia develop their economies.
Kimberly LaMendola, Southern Tier West regional development coordinator, noted Sabina’s proposal was one of the more unique proposals she’s seen, especially in light of “all that we’re hearing of the disparity of women and the challenges of women in all forms of the workforce.”
“Of course we don’t want to discourage boys, but the goal was to increase girls’ comfort level of exploring the same options and opportunities that boys seem to naturally gravitate to,” LaMendola said.
Although women made up half of the total U.S. college-educated workforce in 2013, they only made up 29 percent of the science and engineering workforce, according to the National Science Board.
ARC-funded projects cannot exceed 18 months, meaning many of the grants are used to jumpstart new programs, LaMendola said.
Sabina considers Girls in Manufacturing a “pilot program.”
“We’re hoping this will grow, and other schools will see this hopefully and adopt this whole model that’s being created here by these teachers,” she said. “This is something we really hope will continue on and not just the duration (of the grant). But with the excitement I’ve seen so far, the number of students involved, this is going to be terrific.”
Thus far, five local districts are involved in the program: Hinsdale, Olean, Portville, Allegany-Limestone and Cuba-Rushford. All are developing after-school clubs for female students, roughly in grades five through eight.
On Thursday, a group of 15 female Hinsdale students gathered in the school’s library for their first Girls in Manufacturing Club meeting. They heard about DIDI-WNY activities like the Eaton Young Manufacturers Academy, which will be held later this month, and played “Toxic Waste,” a team-building game that tasked them with collectively pulling bungee cords to dump a bucket of tennis balls into another bucket.
Students also heard from Elise Griffiths, Solepoxy product development engineer, who explained the manufacturing process by walking through all the steps that go into creating and marketing Oreo cookies.
“Seeing girls in manufacturing is huge for making other girls want to join manufacturing,” said Griffiths, who will speak as a mentor at several school’s first club meetings. “... I think it’s really important because for so long girls were told, ‘You’re in the home, and that’s what you’re doing.’ No. They have such great ideas. We need everybody’s ideas. You’re doubling your workforce by telling girls, ‘Yes, you can manufacture, too.’”
(Contact reporter Tom Dinki at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @tomdinki)