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These Rocket Competitions Could Help Female Aerospace Engineers Take Off

June 10, 2014
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These Rocket Competitions Could Help Female Aerospace Engineers Take Off
Team America Rocketry Challenge encourages girls to take an interest in science. Screen grab via Team America Rocketry Challenge
What is the Aerospace Industries Association looking for? More women.

Aerospace engineering is receiving a little extra boost of energy — but we’re not talking about rocket fuel.

Rather, it’s some pink power.

Among the rockets at the Team America Rocketry Challenge outside of Washington, D.C. is a sole pink rocket belonging to one of the few all-girl teams. Typically, the color pink is lacking in the engineering field — but it is the hope of these young girls and the Aerospace Industries Association to change all of that.

Currently, there’s a dearth of women in the engineering field. A 2013 Aviation Week Workplace study found that only 24 percent of aerospace professionals are women. And according to the University of Wisconsin, only 11 percent of practicing engineers are women. And if that’s not enough bad news, 41 percent of women leave the aviation field after 10 years compared to just 10 percent of men, according to a Catalyst report.

What is the reason for this? According to Susan Lavrakas, director of workforce for the Aereospace Industries Association, it is a lack of opportunity for children, especially the ability for girls to become involved at a young age.

Lavrakas and the Association want to reach children at a younger age to expose them to the field and generate interest through participation in STEM programs. The Association spends about $160 million per year on funding programs for children and are currently reworking them to reach a younger demographic. The aim? To target children in elementary school before they have become set on a specific education and career path.

However, there is hope. In 2013, there was a 30 percent increase in women studying engineering — and there’s potential for that number to increase. Case in point: The Texas girls’ team with their pink rocket and a team of Girl Scouts from California represent a new generation of girls interested in engineering and aviation committed to their field.

Sixteen-year-old Kara Chuang is a member of the California team.

“By doing competitions like this, by promoting STEM, it introduces girls into a mainly man-dominant field,” Chuang told National Journal. “We can do just as well as them.”

Although neither of the girls’ teams won, they proved that there is room for a little pink in the engineering world, and, for women in the industry, the sky is certainly not the limit.

MORE: Will Mentorship Bring More Diversity to STEM Fields?

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