More than a dozen youngsters got a hands-on look at the life of an engineer Thursday as part of an industrywide effort to spark interest in science, technology, engineering and math fields among girls.
A group of female engineers from Raytheon, a global aerospace and defense firm with facilities in Annapolis Junction, spent the afternoon at the Meade Village Boys and Girls Club in Severn, where they answered questions and led the girls, who ranged in age from 9 to 15, in hands-on demonstrations applying the science behind their profession.
The volunteers hope the event — and others like it across the country — will help broaden girls' interest in engineering fields. In the United States, just 14 percent of engineers are women, according to the National Science Foundation.
"We've come a long way in promoting math and science among girls, but we still have a lot of work to do, and so events like these allow us to go back to our communities and provide that outreach," said senior cyber engineer Hahna Kane Latonick.
Raytheon and many other companies across the industry have taken part in Girls Day during National Engineers Week in hopes of inspiring and broadening interest in their field.
"I think we have to get more girls interested in science and math. So many kids drop out of the math program too early, and women are underrepresented in our industry," said Jeanne Toussaint, a Raytheon manager and mother of three daughters, one of whom is studying astrophysics.
During the event, the girls teamed up with engineers to build "glow sticks" out of Christmas lights, electrical tape and 9-volt batteries, and learned how to create closed circuits through which currents can pass.
Like many of her peers, 9-year-old Shariayha Parker, a fourth-grader at Van Bokkelen Elementary School in Severn, said she had a lot of fun putting her glow stick together.
"I'm not really a math person, but I really like science," said Shariayha, adding that the hands-on experience beat sitting in a classroom. "I like to touch everything; it's a lot more fun than sitting and listening to lessons."
The Raytheon volunteers also gave a presentation, during which they explained what engineering is and how it affects the world.
"I learned that everything I touch ... and everything I use is made by engineers," Shariayha said.
The girls also learned about famous female engineers and about the rewards of a career in the industry. Latonick told the students about her own modest upbringing in Philadelphia, and how her interest in engineering grew into a career and opened doors she never thought possible.
"I've been able to travel the world, I've been able to save and protect lives. I'm doing things I never thought I'd be able to do given where I grew up," she said.
Latonick said the event was part of a larger effort to provide role models in STEM fields to girls.
"As a kid, I know I wish I had more women figures or role models who were in engineering. This is a way for us to pay it forward. If a kid sees it and thinks, 'If they can do it, I can do it,' that's very powerful," she said.
Boys and Girls Club director Marcus Johnson was grateful for the opportunity to get girls involved in the program.
"It's easy to find things boys are interested in, but girls can be a little harder, so it's great to have this" event, Johnson said. "And the girls do really enjoy it."