Last year, the newest Girls Engineering Change chapter hit the ground running at the University of California, Irvine. We're incredibly excited about the work they're already doing, forming partnerships and holding events already in order to inspire the young girls in their community. To share some perspective from the West Coast, we asked chapter leader Jerry Chen a few questions about his point of view on GEC's work and his chapter's efforts so far.
What do you think are the most important factors in eliminating the STEM gender gap? Jerry Chen: Coming from a male-dominated culture, I understand how prominent the issue is. Although today’s society is slowly changing this status quo, I continue to see traces of gender stereotype, mostly expressed by adults and older generations. While children may not be aware of the gender expectations initially, they quickly change their mindsets due to parental behaviors or societal pressure. Therefore, I think the two most important factors in shifting this paradigm are education and parents. If parents effectively inform their children the issue of gender gap and set up a good example, the children will strive to make a change. Similarly, an education system with equal access to opportunities and unbiased supports for both girls and boys will further strengthen the idea of gender equality in STEM. Once the girls grow up and become parents themselves, they will pass down this perspective, creating a cycle of positivity and inspiration. This issue cannot be solved in days. Instead, it will take years of changes both on a family level and institutional level. However, if everyone takes a small step one at a time, we will change the world and eliminate the gender gap!
How did you first hear of GEC and what inspired you to get involved? JC: I first heard of GEC in my club Engineering Student Council’s board meeting. A GEC alumnus from Duke University reached out to several professors at UCI, in which one redirected this information to us since the student council is heavily involved in outreach programs. However, the student council was already at its capacity with financial and human resources. I thought it would be unfortunate if this great program were to fall through. Since I personally love doing outreach programs and have volunteered at children hospitals and elementary schools, I decided to take the lead and turn it into a reality, especially after noticing how many males are in my engineering classes. After having several meetings with other students who showed interests, the rest was history!
Since becoming involved, what has been the most rewarding part of GEC? Any inspiring stories to share? JC: The most rewarding part is knowing that not only we get to inspire young girls but also generate so much interest and excitement in the community toward this great cause. Although we have not yet hosted too many events, the most memorable moment that I had was with one of the participants from our very first trial workshop. Due to time constraint, the girls did not get to complete the projects (Simon says circuit board game). After the event, a girl came up to me and asked: “Does this mean the children in the hospital won’t get to play with this game?” It was heartwarming to hear this question, knowing that the girls are so passionate and inspired in giving back to the community to make a difference. Seeing their faces light up when we introduce engineering to them makes all the hard works behind the scene worth it!
Tell us a bit about your new chapter! What have you been up to since getting started? JC: Many things have been going on in GEC at UCI! After overcoming some hurdles in logistic, administrative, and funding aspects, we are now in full swing of motion! We have partnered up and established good relationships with other women in engineering clubs and STEM programs, providing them volunteers to expand our impact. In addition to hosting soldering workshops, we are now planning for the national Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day during the national Engineer Week (E-Week). With our great leaderships and members, I really anticipate us propelling forward, making GEC bigger and stronger. Soon enough, GEC will be self sustainable for years to come!
What would you say to anyone interested in starting and running a chapter of their own? JC: It is true that starting an organization is challenging. There are several logistical, administrative, and regulatory issues that the club must consider and handle. It may be discouraging at times seeing that the process is not moving as fast as anticipated, but don’t give up! If you stay motivated and passionate toward the cause, you will find yourself overcoming these challenges and meet so many supporting people along this journey. Do it for the kids! Good luck! :)