SAVANNAH, Ga. – When Courtney Edwards was in high school, she wanted to be a chef.
Now she's an industrial engineer for Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation and an event coordinator for the Society of Women Engineers' (SWE) annual Girls Engineer It Day Expo.
"I sat down with my high school guidance counselor, and then he told me that I was so good at math and science that I should consider being an engineer," Edwards said. "And here I am today."
"Sometimes just suggesting a STEM [science, technology, engineering, mathematics] career to girls at a young age can help them go a long way," she added.
And that's exactly what Edwards and the entire team behind Girls Engineer It Day aim to achieve.
"We want to expose middle and high school girls to the opportunities available in engineering professions and get them excited about engineering," Edwards said. "We want to get the word out that STEM career fields are open to females and males, and break through the paradigm that engineering is typically a male career field."
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Savannah District partnered with the SWE for this year's expo, Feb. 1 at Woodville Tompkins High School. The Corps—along with about 20 other companies, schools, and organizations—discussed potential STEM-related career paths with an estimated 350 middle and high school-age girls and their parents.
Beth Williams, dam and levee safety program manager, along with Regulatory Specialists Sherelle Reinhardt and Sarah Wise, presented an interactive floodplain model to demonstrate the Corps’ role in water resource projects.
"There are a lot of smart girls here who want to be engineers, and they asked us a lot of good questions," Williams said. "We asked them about solutions for flooding and they were creative and eager to come up with ideas."
Williams said that when she was in high school, her career choice changed often. She wanted to become everything from a dentist to an accountant. But she finally decided to become an engineer when she enrolled in college at Auburn University.
"My dad was an engineer, so that was part of the reason I went into that career field," Williams said.
As for the emphasis on recruiting women, Williams says it hits close to home.
"When I went to school, there were maybe five females in my class out of maybe 50 civil engineers. It was definitely a male-dominated field. So it's great to see the career field grow to include more women," Williams said.
Reinhardt, who studied biology at the University of Southern California, also is passionate about outreach like Girls Engineer It Day.
"I have always loved science, technology, and math as a child, but there weren’t very many women I could look up to as mentors in those subjects," Reinhardt said. "Events like this encourage girls to come together and meet others who share their interests. It's an opportunity for them to apply their love of science and math to an awesome career."
Kayla Jones, a sixth-grader at Garrison Middle School who attended the event, said she wants to become a singer but she is also interested in engineering.
"A lot of people, when they go into engineering, they make a lot of money," Jones said. "But they also help people—like Georgia Power helps people keep their lights on."
"[Today] we learned about different types of engineering and about things we can do to help the community with engineering," Jones said.
Michala Calvert, an eleventh grader at Savannah Christian High School, said she wants to be an engineer not only because her grandfather is an engineer, but because she has always been interested in science and medicine.
"I think it's cool that we have an opportunity to come here and have mentors share their knowledge with us," Calvert said.
"And it's awesome that this event is geared toward women," Calvert said. "There's a higher demand for women to be engineers…it's not just for the boys."