Nerd Girls: What's in a name?
We are desperately trying to identify and solve the issues that prevent girls from pursuing engineering and science careers. So let’s ask, “What are girls interested in?” To answer this, try taking a look at what they are watching on television.
Have you ever seen a television show where the main characters are engineers? We see Lawyers, Doctors, Educators and Law Enforcement. Why not engineers? Well, Hollywood might say, “No one is interested in the life of a nerd”. Now, there’s the problem. The word “engineer” has become synonymous with the word “nerd.”.
The American Heritage Dictionary, third edition published in 1993 defines nerd as: “A person regarded as stupid, socially inept or unattractive.” In 2003, only ten years later, the word nerd implies someone really smart, a “mean killer” or a brain waver.”
In ten years, the word Nerd has been modified to characterize an intelligent individual. Now, let’s attack the other two nerd attributes, mainly the social ineptness and the unattractiveness requirements.
Every female engineer and scientist I have ever met has been well known on the for her extra-curricular activities. I have met young women that had danced the lead role in the Nutcracker Ballet, the captain of the tennis team, a cheerleader, an artist, a singer, a sports writer, a mechanic, and a ballroom dance champion. Nerd Girls are role models are for young girls and for society.
Whenever we go out on outreach adventures, young children used to ask, “Why do you call yourselves the Nerd Girls, when none of you are nerds?”. The answer is that the team has been redefining the word “nerd” by being role models for youth rather than trying to abolish the association of the word “nerd” with engineers and brainy people. The Nerd Girls is taking ownership of the word Nerd and someday the dictionary will have our definition: Smart, dedicated individual with diverse talents beyond their chosen scientific disciplines.
Nerd Girls are successful role models and have successful careers long after they leave school. Our favorite comments are when we hear: “I never knew engineers could do such cool stuff.”
We have learned two important lessons from our audiences. People really do not understand how cool engineering and science really is. Secondly, we often hear engineers say they chose to become an engineer because they were good at math and science, but what’s the connection?
Nerd Girls are role models for youth and help make this connection through examples of everyday technology present in all households, regardless of all socio-economic status.
Now, some people might question the use the “Nerd Girl” name. Couldn’t this be considered degrading? I put this question to the team and the response was, “What’s in a name anyway? People should take a look at what we are doing and see that we’re about changing attitudes and promoting engineering and science for the exciting professions they really are.”
The Nerd Girls, show that an individual can excel at extra-curricular activities and have the power to change the world through their innovations.
In the true engineering spirit, Nerd Girls are redesigning the world around them by shaping young minds and making being a “nerd” a cool thing.