Let Anjali Kanthilal, a high school sophomore tell it: "Girls have not always been as recognized - not only in science and technology, but everywhere."
That's about to change.
In no place is that change more apparent than in The Tech Challenge 2011, where despite a historical under-representation of women in science, a nearly equal number of girls and boys will compete for top honors in the 24th annual science competition at The Tech Museum on April 30th.
This year, girls from around the Bay Area, San Diego and New York will make up or be exclusive members of the 45 percent of the 263 teams trying to solve this year's challenge to clean up Trash Island: The Great Pacific Gyre. The whirling vortex is trapping human-produced trash, mostly plastic bits, and is ruining marine habitats and poisoning plants and animals - as well as humans. Last year, girls made up nearly 38 percent of teams.
The steady increase in the number of girls participating is no accident - thanks, in part, to one program that focuses on the engagement of girls in science and engineering activities. It's run under the guidance of mentors from Northrop Grumman and the Software Development Forum's Tech Girls program. Three teams, of mostly girls, have been gathering every Saturday since November to prepare for the competition.
At a recent session, Anjali and several fellow students took part in a practice session for the competition with Northrop Grumman engineers and managers standing in as judges. Teams gave presentations and their hilarious dynamics were evident in the teasing, joking, group cheers and songs woven into amazingly astute presentations on project management, risk assessment, scheduling, budget analysis, documentation, communication and the importance of teamwork.
Northrop Grumman built two test rigs to the competition's exact specifications, right down to the colorful plastic fish dangling from paper clips. During the practice session, teams vied for the fastest time while picking up "trash"-plastic bottle caps and soda bottles from the "ocean" while demonstrating their devices.
Through The Tech Challenge, presented by Cisco, students are introduced to science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM), acquiring key skills for a 21st century global society. The project-based nature of the team competition distinguishes it from many other science-based programs for youth in grades 5 through 12.
Bruce Kackman, a Northrop Grumman manager, and Jennie Hou, member of Software Development Forum's Tech Girls program, are clear about their motivation: "To engage the community, get more people involved in science and engineering, and to create the next generation of women engineers." Past participants have gone on to top universities to study sciences and engineering.
For more than two decades, The Tech Challenge has allowed some 14,000 youth throughout California, New York and other regions to hone their creativity and innovation on challenges that included building devices to fight wildfires, removing invasive fish from a lake, exploring an Egyptian tomb and surveying craters on Mars.
Northrop Grumman/ SD Forum program advisers come from a variety of backgrounds to support students. Camille Barnes-Mosley, a Northrop Project Manager who spearheads the program, says that girls play an important part in building the workforce of the future whether they are role models, scientists, or engineers. The growth of technology and innovation depends on it.
But for Salonee Thanawala, the greatest joy doesn't rest in a well-tooled rig or its nifty design. Instead, Salonee says the experience is more about "teamwork, working together, and dealing with other people-skills that'll help us in the real world."
Local high school students, Team Ocean's 6 (L to R) Nwakaego Uzoh, Dinaz Bamji, Anthony Pan, Casey Kackman, and Ana Peccin, test their theories in preparation for The Tech Challenge 2011.
For more information on The Tech Challenge, visit: http://www.thetech.org/
Lead sponsors of The Tech Challenge are: SAP, Motorola Foundation and S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation. Other corporate sponsors include: Intel, EMC, JP Morgan Chase, Fairchild Semiconductor, Wells Fargo, Tellabs Foundation, Xilinx, Ernst & Young, The Tech Museum's Emeritus Board, Amgen, Symantec, SanDisk, TE Connectivity, Flextronics, Lockheed Martin, Technology Credit Union, PMC-Sierra, IBM, Sony Electronics, Hitachi Data Systems, Northrop Grumman, BAE Systems, Integrated Device Technology, ScholarShare, The David H. Liu Foundation, AMD, ADC Foundation, DeVry University, SDForum Tech Women's Program, Team San Jose, NBC Bay Area, KTSF, Make: makezine.com, Bay Area News Group.
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About The Tech Museum
The Tech Museum is a hands-on science and technology institution designed to engage people of all ages and backgrounds in experiences that educate, inform, provoke thought, and inspire action. Ensconced in the heart of Silicon Valley, the museum captures the spirit of the region through innovative content and programs such The Tech Challenge, our annual team design competition for youth, and the internationally renowned The Tech Awards, which recognizes technology to benefit humanity. Daily, The Tech Museum celebrates the present and encourages the development of pioneering ideas for a more promising future.