20 years of Introducing a Girl to Engineering

Middle-school girls and Collins volunteers from sites across the world are teaming up on Feb. 25 (this time, virtually!) to envision a future with more female engineers.

Flip your calendar back to February 2001. People were still calling the internet the “world wide web,” we’d made it through Y2K, and everyone was throwing around words like “information age” and “digital revolution.”

The world would need a steady pipeline of bright minds to keep the big, outside-the-box ideas flowing. It would need more engineers.

A campaign begins

Enter DiscoverE. Twenty years ago, DiscoverE, along with other prominent engineering organizations, created Introduce A Girl to Engineering (IAGTE) Day to show middle-school girls everywhere what it’s like to work as an engineer.

Why middle-schoolers? Research shows girls begin to question their interest in STEM right around the age of 10, or fourth grade. Why the focus on girls? Less than 10 percent of female freshmen say they’ll pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers, compared to nearly 30 percent of their male counterparts.

Collins Aerospace, a business of Raytheon Technologies, has supported the event from the start. Volunteers at the former Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, opened their doors to a small group of girls on that first, cold IAGTE Day in 2001. The program has grown: Last year, more than 2,300 girls and 1,000 volunteers participated at 55 Collins sites across eight countries.

Over the years, in-person activities have ranged from donning all kinds of goggles (safety, night vision, virtual reality) to see problems in new ways, conducting lab experiments, testing algorithms, designing robotics, and even sitting at the controls of a (parked) aircraft – so girls could experience a day in the life of an aerospace engineer.

Girl Power! More than 80% of the girls who participated in the 2019 Girl Day event with Collins reported that they are now more likely to consider a career in engineering.

An unexpected curveball

When COVID-19 hit, Collins event organizers had to rethink curriculum and logistics so they could keep the 20-year tradition going.

“We made it work this year by doing what engineers always do,” said Katie Cody, who leads the Corporate Social Responsibility team at Collins. “We found new and creative ways to solve problems.”

This year's IAGTE event will take place Thursday, February 25, and yes - the organizers have taken it online. The team designed a toolkit with local and corporate-provided resources that could work for most any participant, anywhere.

“This is the first year we’ve planned the event as part of Raytheon Technologies,” said Adriana Johnson, Collins corporate social responsibility program manager, who has coordinated the global event for eight years. “This has given us a greater opportunity to spotlight our people and our products across the business. The virtual platform has allowed several sites to team up to form one large event throughout several communities.”

The perks of going virtual

Virtual sessions mean more participants in more places can connect to livestreamed and pre-recorded modules. Technology and products that are unique to a particular site, such as our ACES 5 ejection seats or our world-famous spacesuits, can now be explored by everyone.

Sites now have the same access to Q&As planned with engineers, subject matter experts and – because it’s Collins – our favorite astronauts. As a bonus this year, Time magazine’s first-ever Kid of the Year, Gitanjali Rao, will join us on a number of fronts, including a Zoom chat with Collins President Steve Timm.

But the best part of IAGTE Day, both this year and in years past, is the stories that come from it.

“I love to hear about employees who are paying it forward because someone else encouraged them,” added Adriana. “And I love hearing from the girls who come away with a whole new level of confidence.”

Lorrin Johnson, an engineer who now works in marketing at our Avionics business in Wilsonville, Oregon, agrees: “A lack of female representation in a male-dominated field [like ours] can make it hard for girls to envision a STEM path. Hearing women share about their love of aerospace engineering and their successful STEM careers gives the girls this vital representation – a way to picture themselves as future engineers.”

Girls who take part in this year’s event led by the Wilsonville team will engage with activities via the Collins virtual tradeshow booth. An interactive URL will invite girls to view videos, learn about the site’s products and engineers, and engage in competitions at their own pace.

With all the virtual activities at participants’ fingertips, and with 56 Collins sites across 13 countries expected to participate this year, our business is ready to help tomorrow’s STEM leaders imagine their own futures.


Don't miss this story about a Collins intern who discovered her love of all things engineering from an Introduce a Girl day she attended here in eighth grade.

Check out these at-home activities and resources from DiscoverE:

Register for DiscoverE's Chats with Changemakers featuring Collins employee and former Astronaut Joan Higginbotham

Register for the Innovation Workshop led by Gitanjali Rao, TIME Magazine's Kid of the Year 2020

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