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Girls in Engineering Academy

Community Spotlight: Mentorship Shapes Future Sustainability Leadership at The Girls in Engineering Academy

May 16, 2024

The need for innovative and sustainable solutions has never been greater as the need for sustainability and decarbonization solutions grows. To support this, there is a demand for technical expertise and a diverse and inclusive approach to leadership in sustainability. Mentorship is crucial in nurturing the next generation of energy leaders, providing guidance, knowledge transfer, and inspiration. An initiative that exemplifies this is the Girls in Engineering Academy (GEA) in Detroit.

With a commitment to empowering young women and advancing the skills needed for engineering occupations, GEA is housed by the Engineering Society of Detroit (ESD) and is breaking down barriers and bridging the gender gap in STEM fields by providing hands-on experiences, mentorship opportunities, and exposure to real-world engineering challenges for middle and high school girls. GEA Program Manager Alexandra Lofton shared the genesis of the program and the impact they strive to achieve.

“The Girls in Engineering Academy was created due to the notable absence of diversity in the engineering profession and bachelor degree graduate percentages,” said Alexandra. “The Engineering Society of Detroit’s overarching goal is to build the Michigan STEM pipeline, while GEA helps to increase interest in engineering and STEM among primarily minority girls by providing fun and engaging STEM curriculum. GEA is focused on capturing and encouraging STEM interest at a young age to foster the engineers of tomorrow.”

By providing educational support from successful female engineers and professionals as role models, GEA inspires confidence in the next generation of female leaders and empowers them to envision themselves as future engineers – including sustainability champions. “We currently have over 150 middle school and high school primarily minority female students in our program,” Alexandra added. “We also just celebrated our first group of graduates from our program – all planning on attending universities this fall.”

Mentorship is at the heart of the Girls in Engineering Academy’s mission. Participants can learn from female professionals at various career stages through workshops, field trips, and interactive projects. Madison Stauffer, Energy Engineer at Energy Sciences, had the opportunity to spend a day with the girls and discover the program’s benefits. “All of the classes worked on interactive, hands-on projects that applied real-world concepts often missed in typical school curriculum,” Madison shared. “They also focused on many other skills, like putting together an engaging presentation, presenting the information, and communication.”

The mentors and professionals engaging at GEA pass on their knowledge and expertise and provide career guidance that helps these young girls navigate the multitude of options available within the engineering field. “Engineering was not even on my radar until my senior year of high school,” reflects Madison. “There were plenty of programming opportunities but nothing specific to engineering. These young women are working on complex and real-world applications of STEM subjects that create accessibility for their futures. Connecting with other women passionate about their work makes it easy to see how the girls are encouraged to pursue their aspirations.”

The importance of mentorship extends beyond the Girls in Engineering Academy and into the broader energy efficiency and sustainability field. Career guidance in a field as unique as sustainability involves sharing how various professions and disciplines interplay with each other to create plans and solutions for a greener and healthier future. Many aspects of the field continue to evolve as new resources become available. For example, this is a field where technology and best practices involving technology are evolving; having access to mentors who can offer insights from practical experience is invaluable. Intentional mentorship can help navigate the many options available in the application to a career in sustainability and energy efficiency.

In actively seeking out diverse mentors and mentees, organizations can foster a more inclusive environment and encourage a broader range of perspectives and ideas. By diversifying the talent pool within the engineering profession, initiatives like the Girls in Engineering Academy contribute to more innovative and inclusive solutions to sustainability challenges. As these young girls grow into engineers and sustainability leaders, they will bring fresh perspectives, creativity, and empathy to their work, driving meaningful change in their communities and beyond.

“GEA is always working to provide new and relevant STEM curriculum and field trips to industry, including in sustainability fields,” Alexandra stated. “Last year, GEA introduced a new partnership with Central Michigan University to provide courses in ecology and product design at the main campus and the CMU biological station on Beaver Island. GEA 8th grade students participated in a tour with Hazen & Sawyer and Oakland County to tour the water plant and learn about water filtration – a field trip that is planned to continue each summer. New this year, GEA offered a civil engineering course for its 9th-grade students, and this summer will be our first environmental engineering course!”

Empowering future sustainability leaders and advancing inclusivity within the energy efficiency and sustainability sector requires intentionally focusing on how to grow them. GEA is an example of an initiative leading the way by providing growth opportunities and inspiring young girls to pursue careers in engineering and sustainability. Investing in mentorship and promoting diversity and inclusion can cultivate a new generation of skilled professionals to address environmental sustainability’s complex challenges and contribute to a more resilient and equitable future.

Energy Sciences emphasizes supporting like-minded organizations and initiatives in sustainability. Contact us to collaborate on a future Community Spotlight feature on our website and newsletter!

Categories: Blog, ES Community, Sustainability