Indiana State University Newsroom

Event recruits midde school girls to tech careers

November 12, 2015

"Why do we need more women?" Bev Bitzegaio asked a classroom of middle-school girls from Crawfordsville.

A girl in the back of the room raised her hand. "Because we're better at it," she said, and her classmates laughed in agreement.

"Why else?" Bitzegaio asked.

"Because we're cooler than them," said another, and the laughter grew louder.

"That goes without saying," Bitzegaio said. Addressing a room of female students with a background in advanced math and science education, it was time to settle down and begin the real discussion. "Anyone else?"

A girl in the middle raised her hand. "We have a different perspective on things."

"Yes, that's it!" said Bitzegaio, director of outreach and student career support in Indiana State University's College of Technology.

Thus began the closing address for an eventful day of workshops to teach girls about careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

Bitzegaio said it is important to interest women in these fields for a couple of reasons: ensuring that we have enough people to fill these jobs in a projected upcoming shortage, and seeking the diversity of thought to find creative solutions-best gained by welcoming people with diverse backgrounds.

"One of the most important reasons is to try to get more people in general going into those fields. There are going to be major shortages over the next 10 years, especially in technology and engineering. Science and math are doing a better job at recruiting women, although that growth is hard to quantify," she said. "Why do companies want more diversity? If you have all the same kind of people that are working, it's harder to solve problems important problems in unique ways. So, they are looking for diversity of thought."

Four groups of seven middle schoolers each took turns participating in workshops, taught by Indiana State faculty and undergraduate students-many of whom participated in the NASA Ignite! Scholar program the previous week, where they received training in the NASA curriculum and learned teaching methods to work with children going into STEM areas.

In the "Females in Technology" workshop, the middle schoolers learned how to "ask, imagine, plan, create, and improve." The students were paired with the person sitting beside them to make the tallest tower out of 16 plastic cups and one rubber-band, only able to pick the cups up with string in a "threading". After a five-minute planning session between partners, 15 minutes of completely silent creation led to carefully-constructed cup towers.

In another classroom, aviation instructor Melanie Abel let the students take to the virtual skies in three Redbird flight simulators, one of which allowed the students to experience motion.

"Our goal today is to expose them to aviation. Currently, only about 6 percent of pilots are female," Abel said. "So, being a female in aviation, it is important for me to share my love of aviation with them."

Edie Wittenmyer, instructor of electronics and computer engineering, showed the students how to make their own movie sequences in a video game workshop. In majors that deal with creating video games, contrary to our idea in the media of what a "gamer" looks like, Wittenmyer has witnessed the gender reality of who enjoys games-an egalitarian 50-50 split between male and female students.

Azizi Arrington-Bey allowed her students to create a floorplan for a mall in her interior architecture design workshop while a list of career possibilities graced the large projector. Much like Wittenmyer's observations of modern video game design, Arrington-Bey agreed that interior design is a component of architecture that women had cut out for themselves.

"I'm a licensed architect, so I'm one of very few females in that, when I go into the interior design sector-because I'm an interior designer also-it's more women than men, so it's kind of double-sided," she said. "But our program is pretty mixed right now, which is good. When I first got here, it was pretty much all girls, but it's growing to where we've got a lot more guys now."

Bitzegaio says a mixture of socialization, lack of visible role models and lack of understanding of about science, technology, engineering and math fields (which also affects young men), are why more women don't pursue related careers.

"I'm hoping what we're doing for females will also attract more guys to this field,," she said. "Manufacturing today isn't what it was 10 or 20 years ago. Role models and mentoring are a big piece of that."

Madison Fry and Mariel Oshel, two eighth-graders who attended the event, said they generally felt encouraged to pursue their fields but lacked living female examples-outside of their parents, and the staff they met at Indiana State. Fry said her mother works in financing. Oshel's mother is a biologist and her father is an electrical engineer. Fry has "always wanted to be a neurosurgeon for as long as (she) could remember," and Oshel shared her interest in how the brain works.

"A lot of my friends' moms are doctors or in the science field, but my mom has been telling me since a young age that women can do anything in science," Oshel said. "Her parents were ashamed that she was in a science field, and they wanted her to be a flight attendant, so she wanted to make sure I don't just go along with what other people want."

Fry became interested in science by taking classes at Purdue when she was "little" and Oshel remembered deciding her career trajectory in preschool.

"My pre-school teacher let us watch the Magic School Bus one day and I was like, 'Yes, science!'" Oshel said.

Fry and Oshel both attended to learn about career opportunities, and Oshel particularly wanted an early start on her college search.

School gave Oshel the impression that science was only about studying bees and ants.

Bitzegaio said there is a shortage of quality science curriculum, and the Indiana STEM Network is working hard to get better curriculum into the schools.

Photo: - Girls from Crawfordsville Middle School listen to Indiana State University Females in Technology students and College of Technology staff member Beverly Bitzegaio Nov. 4, 2015 during a daylong program to educate prospective future students about science, technology, engineering and math programs. (ISU Photo Services)

Photo: - Girls from Crawfordsville Middle School take a turn on a flight simulator in the Indiana State University College of Technology Nov. 4, 2015 as part of a daylong event to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs. (ISU Photo Services)

Contact: Beverly Bitzegaio, director of outreach and student career support, College of Technology, 812-237-3575 or

Writer: Kristen Kilker, media relations assistant, Office of Communications and Marketing, 812-237-3773 or

Story Highlights

About 40 girls from Crawfordsville Middle School took part in a daylong workshop at Indiana State University's College of Technology to learn about opportunities available in science, technology, engineering and math.

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