Program Seeks to Dispel Gender Imbalances in STEM Fields

The Encinitas Union School District and the Global Teams in Engineering Service program from the Jacobs School of Engineering recently created the SISTERS in Science program at elementary schools in Encinitas in order to cultivate interest in science and engineering amongst girls. 

 The SISTERS in Science program, which stands for Sustaining Interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Research in Society, is an outreach program that has been designed to spark interest in science, engineering, math and other STEM-related fields amongst girls. It aims to bring more girls into STEM, short for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. The SISTERS in Science program is geared toward girls at four local elementary schools in Encinitas.

A recent paper published by the American Society for Engineering Education noted that the number of female engineering students is currently less than 18 percent, and the number of women in engineering, computer science and mathematical-related jobs is less than 13 percent. Additionally, in K through 12 education, boys are six more times likely than girls to have taken higher-level engineering, math and science courses. However, the SISTERS in Science program could potentially change that.

Mandy Bratton, the principal investigator of the SISTERS in Science program and the executive director of the Global TIES-Teams in Engineering Service from the Jacobs School of Engineering, told the UCSD Guardian that the program hopes to generate enthusiasm for science and engineering amongst girls. 

“We hope the engaging curriculum and the interaction with female scientists, engineers and undergraduates will ignite their interest in careers in science and engineering in which women continue to be underrepresented,” Bratton said. “We want the girls to learn that being a scientist or an engineer isn’t easy, but it is important and fun and well within their reach.”

This program was established from a close partnership with the Encinitas Union School District and Global TIES. Global TIES is an engineering program from the Jacobs School of Engineering that serves a humanitarian purpose of allowing students to apply their engineering skills in a real-world setting by working for not-for-profit organizations in developing countries and San Diego. Jan Kleissl, the co-principal investigator of the SISTERS in Science program and an associate professor of environmental engineering at UCSD, advised a Global TIES team that instructed classes in science and engineering at the elementary schools from 2009 to 2014. 

The SISTERS program has more than 130 girls from the 5th and 6th grades enrolled in it. More than 20 percent of the students from these schools are below the poverty line.

Bratton explained that this program is expected to be transformational and encouraging for the students.

“We want this program to make a profound and lasting difference in these girls’ lives,” Bratton said.

Nancy Jones, administrator for support services for Encinitas Union School District, also expressed her support for the program.

“We want them to be confident problem solvers who know how to work with others. We want them to love science,” Jones said. “We want them to have a desire to make a difference in their community and in the world.”

The SISTERS in Science program at the elementary schools in Encinitas is currently an after-school activity that is part of a girls-only after school program that is led by UCSD students. A three-year grant of $800,000 from the National Science Foundation is funding the program.