April 22, 2024


Want to be influencers, youtuber or a successful singer like Aitana scores high in the popularity rankings of Spanish institutes and schools, while female interest in technology was almost a sin until recently. However, in a country with a huge deficit of engineers, more and more girls are expressing their love for the technique. The first fruits of national and international campaigns are collected – their resignation from these studies is a global problem – to attract them towards STEM (acronym in English for science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Thus, the number of university students enrolling for the first time in a degree in the field of Engineering or Architecture is increasing little by little, from 60,300 in 2015 (when diploma and bachelor’s degrees were merged into one degree) ―they reached only 57,000 in 2017 ― to 63,300 this course, but not because of the pull of the boys, who are 800 fewer (although they have begun to rise), but of the 17,600 women, who are 3,900 more than in 2015. They no longer represent 22.7% of first-year students, but 27.8%.

At the Tecnocamp of the Carlos III University in Leganés (Madrid), 45 boys in the third and fourth year of secondary school and first year of high school, divided into three groups, live for a week in a residence hall and have fun pretending to see the solar system with some glasses, 3D printing or learning magic tricks on guessing cards and numbers. There is balance between the sexes. ―Are you afraid of studying engineering because of its difficulty? ―In your family or among teachers, do you perceive stereotypes of careers for men and careers for women? “Are you worse at science than they are?” A dozen registered to Tecnocamp open their eyes in astonishment at the questions from EL PAÍS. They deny the major. “Because? A text commentary exam with syntax scares me more than a global Physics exam”, reasons Patricia D’Amicco, who is about to start the International Scientific Baccalaureate, in which they will only be 30%. Laughter from the rest, who agree.

The data for women are encouraging in a scenario that borders on drama for both sexes, with a plummeting drop in graduates when engineers are most needed around the world. In the 2002-2003 academic year they represented 30.5% of the 410,000 enrolled in undergraduate and graduate degrees, compared to 27.2% of the 243,000 students this year.

15 years ago Celeste Campo, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Promotion, was against girls-only workshops, but now she is an enthusiast. They open up more when they are alone in the classroom -if they are not the ones who take the initiative in the experiments- and networks of adolescents with the same technical concerns are created. She still remembers a girl from Toledo who left a workshop excited, she had realized that she was not alone: ​​I go with the contacts of many girls, I’m not weird!

The Tecnocamp teachers recommend approaching science, the arts or the humanities early, before the child forms his own idea of ​​what he wants to study. The university has another humanities laboratory this summer. “Parents have to open doors for them to experience…”, recommends Campo, from the Carlos III Telematics Engineering department, who applies the story to his daughter. Next to her, Ana Isabel González-Tablas, a professor of Computer Science, clarifies that they “do not evangelize”, but limit themselves to bringing science closer to adolescence. “That they lose their fear, that they see that it is fun, close, that they do not have prejudices. There are people who believe that you have to convince them and that they sign up, but that is not the objective ”.

The number of enrollments of women in STEM careers has gone from 21.8% in 2014 to 30.5% in 2021 at Carlos III. They attribute it to the fact that since in the 2018-2019 academic year they launched different programs; such as STEM For Girls Fridays, monographs in which they make their own nanorobots with intelligent materials or learn to calculate a photovoltaic self-consumption system. The university also offers scientific gynkanas and other mixed STEM Fridays.

A student tours the houses and greenhouses of the lunar bases and drives rovers over their surfaces with virtual glasses.
A student tours the houses and greenhouses of the lunar bases and drives rovers over their surfaces with virtual glasses.santi burgos

The gender stereotype maintains that care careers (Medicine, Nursing or Education) are female and in fact they are the majority in the classroom. “We want them to understand that technology in general also helps society, for example, robotics to medicine”, Campo emphasizes. The proportion of girls is very uneven between the degrees: from 10.5% in Computer Engineering or 12.7% in Mechanics to 46.4% Industrial Chemical Engineering.

“To the families on STEM Fridays, when we give them a talk, I always tell them to close your eyes and imagine a person who works programming. No one imagines a woman, but an asocial person stuck in a room…”, says Campo, who is the coordinator of the program. “Because? Because it is what has been transmitted by advertising, the series. And women are less attracted to those kinds of crazy scientist profiles that are broadcast. That is why it is good that they visualize that we are normal and ordinary people who like many things and that you work as a team with other disciplines”.

Tecnocamp students attended the workshop 'Explore the Solar System in virtual reality', last Thursday.
Tecnocamp students attended the workshop ‘Explore the Solar System in virtual reality’, last Thursday.santi burgos

The Cuban telecommunications engineer Lorena Escandell and the physicist Alicia Fresno give the workshop Cluedo: Who killed Dr. Photon? a game that wins the team that solves the experiments first and incidentally gets to know the photonics and optics laboratory instruments. On Thursday they have forced the boys and girls to mingle after the experience of the previous day. Both believe that they are more mature at that age (14-16 years) and applied and rule out that they are less competitive (according to different studies, in Selectivity they perform worse than them). “Yesterday they won,” they remember. The aforementioned, for their part, are “tired” of being the mature ones at school. “If we do something stupid, we are seen as childish, while boys are expected,” they say.

Many girls get hooked on doing other workshops. Jimena Rivas repeats the experience, after attending a technical camp the previous week at the Autonomous University of Madrid, while Ariadna comes from Alicante. She doesn’t like sports and she surfed the Net with her father looking for something else. Her first option was the Campus of scientific deepening in Soria, of the Ministry of Education, mixed. “I have more than a nine on average in the third year of ESO, but there were 40 places and I did not enter.” Judging by the delusion of her that she talks to, she hasn’t cared. In Leganés she has found other lovers of science, she is not alone.

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