According to a report from the American Association of University Women, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering women through education and research programs, the United States will need 1.7 million more engineers and computer scientists within the next 10 years.
With women and girls still severely underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math, otherwise known as “STEM” fields, and the need for tech knowledge growing, the importance of women’s and girls’ involvement in STEM has reached a critical point.
A new contest is taking on that challenge by engaging directly with STEM-loving girls. The Ant-Man Microtech Callenge, launched by Marvel Entertainment and the Raspberry Pi foundation, a U.K.-based educational charity that develops credit-card-sized computers, is a nationwide program that asks high school girls to submit DIY microtechnology designs. In the spirit of Marvel hero Ant-Man’s super-shrinking powers (and of course his upcoming movie), competitors must create tiny tech projects using readily available or found materials that can be “utilitarian, artistic or just plain fun.”
This type of outreach is a big step toward sending a message to young girls that they are welcome in STEM communities. Although research from the National Girls Collaborative project shows that young girls and boys don’t differ significantly in ability in STEM, by the time they reach higher education in the United States women earn just 18 percent of the total bachelor’s degrees awarded in engineering, and minority women earn a meager 3 percent.
Engaging with young girls interested in STEM in high school—through programs like the Ant-Man Microtech Challenge— is one way to combat the sharp decrease in interest and confidence girls experience in adolescence, whether from limiting gender roles such as “action figures and science kits are for boys; dolls are for girls” or stereotypes that women aren’t as “logical” or “rational” as men.
One more thing about the Ant-Man Microtech Challenge that earns it a special place in our hearts: the prize spread. Apart from the usual (but no less luxurious) package of Hollywood tours, tech workshops and a spot on the red carpet for the Ant-Man world premiere, the contest winner will be given the opportunity to lead her own engineering workshop. She’ll partner with a STEM-based organization in her community and teach other young girls how to build her winning design. Ready, set, tech!
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