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June 03. 2013 6:55PM

Sen. Shaheen announces push for young women to focus on engineering


Doug Howe, professor of precision manufacturing at Nashua Community College, provides a tour of the school's Advanced Manufacturing Center to U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and others on Monday. (KIMBERLY HOUGHTON PHOTO)

NASHUA — Announcing the launch of the Senate STEM Education and Workforce Caucus, U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said Monday that more females should be pursuing engineering fields.

“We have got to get more young women involved in STEM subjects,” Shaheen told a small crowd gathered at Nashua Community College’s Advanced Manufacturing Center.

Shaheen has become a strong supporter of STEM education, an acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. She will be co-chairing the Senate’s new STEM caucus, which will attempt to raise awareness of STEM education and workforce issues to improve the nation’s economic prosperity and global competitiveness.

In order to do that, Shaheen said more females must begin to show an interest. While women make up about 48 percent of the nation’s workforce, only 24 percent of the jobs in STEM fields are occupied by females, according to Shaheen.

If New Hampshire hopes to have 43,000 STEM graduates by 2018, women need to get excited about the opportunities in various STEM careers, the senator said.

“We have got to change the stereotypes,” Shaheen said, adding groups such as Merrimack High School’s Chop Shop 166 robotics team are setting new pathways for young women interested in engineering jobs. Shaheen told a small group of local and state officials about her legislation, the Inspiration Innovation School Grant Program, to boost access to STEM educational opportunities.

Mark Conrad, Nashua’s superintendent, stressed the importance of introducing young students to hands-on opportunities in these fields when they are still at the elementary level.

The more opportunities students have to think about their future careers, the better chance they will have at being successful, Conrad said.

“Watching those kids, it is amazing how excited they get and how talented they are,” he said of various programs such as the FIRST robotics initiative.

It is also critical to make the STEM subjects fun and interesting so that young students are excited rather than afraid of math and science. The Nashua School District is currently a part of a national pilot program designed to rethink how teachers instruct math to elementary students.

“We have a real commitment here in Nashua,” he said of boosting grades and interest in STEM subjects. Conrad mentioned Deepika Kurup, a city student and winner of the 14th annual Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, the nation’s premier science competition for middle school students.

Kurup has found an innovative solution to harnessing solar energy for water purification, a technology she believes has the power to save millions of lives throughout the world.

While there are several amazing students like Kurup doing work in STEM areas, Conrad maintained that Nashua and New Hampshire still need more.

Mayor Donnalee Lozeau agreed that it is important to begin promoting STEM jobs at an early age. Companies hoping to relocate or expand into Nashua are searching for a skilled workforce, she said, commended BAE Systems’ mentor program.

“Unless you start early, this is not going to have an impact,” she said.

Brittany Lacy, a senior at Nashua High School North, will enter college this fall with a major in aerospace engineering.

“Up until this year, I was the only girl in my engineering classes,” said Lacy, acknowledging she has always had an interest in building things. “People often think of mechanical engineering as dirty work, but there is a lot more to it than getting your hands a little dirty.”

khoughton@newstote.com