from the Star--Waterloo--DeKalb High School teacher Moira McSpadden has an important message she hopes her students and others will heed.
"Don't limit based on the perceived," she said.
McSpadden has a background in engineering and currently teaches technology education at the high school through the Project Lead The Way program.
In her chosen field of engineering, McSpadden said, she always was the "lone female" or one of just a handful of women in a mail-dominated subject and occupation.
While enrolled at Purdue University, she co-authored an article on an approach to increase female enrollment in technology education programs. Her article has been published in the Technology and engineering Teacher Journal and has been awarded the 2014 Gerald R. Day Top Peer-Reviewed Article Award. She will be nationally recognized in Orlando, Fla., in March.
In the article, McSpadden and co-author Todd R. Kelley propose teaching design through the study of a real-world local or global problem that can be improved through engineering design.
"Girls and boys think differently," McSpadden said. "Boys are hands-on. Girls, on the other hand, typically think more, 'How is this going to impact someone else? How will it impact life?'"
McSpadden said both approaches are needed in engineering, and she hopes female students will see their pint of view is important and can be successful in the field.
In the article, McSpadden and Kelley say,"...this type of design project makes use of the skills and interests of both male and female students to bring together a cohesive design and project....This approach to teaching design gives the female and male students in the class a better understanding of how their strengths may be applied to the world around them through technology and engineering."
McSpadden said DeKalb High School will begin offering a new class for seniors that requires students to identify a problem and work all year to build a prototype for a solution. The class will require students to have a hands-on approach as well as consider how they will impact life.
Still, McSpadden realizes a high percentage of her students will males.
"It's really unfortunate that overall, girls, whether it's conscious or not, are still encouraged to limit their focus on what they want to go into," McSpadden said. "I'd really like to see the number of girls that we have grow."
Breaking down the numbers of male and female students in her classes, McSpadden said her Introduction to Engineering Design class is made up of 12 students, all male, A second section of the class has eight students, two of whom are girls. Of the 16 members of her civil engineering class, only two are girls. Three girls are part of the 15-member Principles of Engineering class. Eighteen students from DeKalb Middle School also participate in Project Lead the Way. Three of those students are girls, McSpadden said.
"Even in college, your percentages are low" for women in engineering, McSpadden said.
"When you boil it down, it's: 'Don't limit the girls. Encourage them to take the class Don't limit."