Dozens of girls gathered at St. Paul’s Holman Field last Saturday to celebrate Global Girls in Aviation Day, an annual event designed to inspire girls to explore the world of STEM. At the event, girls learned about careers in aviation and technology, and met with role models like former space shuttle astronaut Sandra Magnus, Honeywell senior engineer Elizabeth Bierman, and Barb Wiley, the first female pilot for North Central Airlines.
The girls had the opportunity “to see iconic women who have paved the way in their fields and have done amazing things,” said Kristi Rollag Wangstad, president of the Minneapolis educational nonprofit AirSpace Minnesota, which organized the aviation event with the Stars of the North Chapter of Women in Aviation. “It is something that opens up the doors of possibility.”
AirSpace Minnesota is among several organizations, including Girl Scouts River Valleys, that are working to expand opportunities for girls. Currently, women only account for about 25% of positions in engineering, computer science, and physics. In aviation, only 22% of individuals in the field are women, and less than 7 percent of pilots are female.
“Sometimes girls are discouraged from pursuing technical careers, particularly when they are in mixed-gender educational settings,” explains Missi Arens, Vice President of Funded Initiatives with Girl Scouts River Valleys.
Often, “they don’t have the confidence to try something new,” says Arens, who has been working on this issue with the Girl Scouts in various capacities for more than 16 years. “In a boy-girl setting, they are afraid they will get laughed at, that they will be made fun of.”
As a result, Girl Scouts has designed a variety of activities revolving around STEM that are in a “safe place” – where girls are more willing to experiment and make mistakes. Events that foster a nurturing, all-female environment, like Global Girls in Aviation Day, can help young girls to thrive.