Brilliant Bracelets: Engaging Girls in STEM

Brilliant Bracelets

By Britta Rowan
Social Media Director
IIE Twin Cities

Engaging girls in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) is becoming an increasingly hot topic in the public forum. According to a report compiled by the National Girls Collaborative Project, girls’ participation and performance in science and math are improving over time but boys still perform better on average and only 15% of women entering college choose a Science or Engineering field versus nearly 30% of men. Perhaps even more discouraging, once women choose a STEM field, they are less likely to stick around than their male counterparts. An article published earlier this year in the Washington Post shared a Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) report that shows that women working in science and high-tech fields are 45% more likely to leave the industry within one year compared to their male counterparts.

A literature review compiled by the Girls RISE National Museum Network suggests that fostering a “science identity,” or the idea of seeing one’s self as affiliated with science and understanding the world the way a scientist does, is necessary to motivate girls to pursue STEM coursework and careers. The research also shows that it is important to start early in developing science identity, and that the best informal STEM programs to increase school-aged girls’ interest in science are hands-on, student-centered, collaborative, and low-pressure.

The Twin Cities IIE professional chapter is doing their part by hosting STEM outreach focused on getting girls excited about industrial engineering. Chapter 38 members volunteer at the IIE-hosted “Brilliant Bracelets experiment” which is designed to share traditional IE topics like brainstorming, layout design, standard work, and line balancing through a fun and colorful bracelet assembly line activity. The experiment was designed by former and current board members Christy Strong and Jenna Weiland, and has been staged at least twice annually over the past six years in partnership with the local SWE chapter, which organizes outreach events for Girl Scouts and local underprivileged student groups.

The  activity begins by introducing the basics of industrial engineering through a short presentation on the types of jobs an IE can perform in industry, followed by a fun, hands-on activity where each table of participants becomes a team working in a bracelet “factory” producing Brilliant Bracelets for picky customers that demand lots of bracelets with strict quality requirements. After a first round where the groups are frustrated by a poor factory layout, confusing raw materials, and suboptimal work instructions, the girls work in teams to develop ideas for improvement and implement their envisioned future state in order to produce bracelets more quickly and with higher quality. At the end of the experiment, they become the true end customers when each student receives her own bracelet to take home to keep.

Feedback from volunteer coordinators staged at the exits of the last few events indicates that the Brilliant Bracelets activity is a huge hit with participants. One coordinator passed on an especially encouraging message after a recent event:

“I was polling girls as they were exiting and there were several enthusiastic accounts of the bracelet activity and girls interested in becoming industrial engineers! You really made an impact!”

If you are a continuous improvement professional in the Twin Cities and you would like more information on how to get involved, please contact Britta Rowan (brittarowan@gmail.com) to be notified the next time there is an opportunity to volunteer at a Brilliant Bracelets event. Planning is currently underway for our second event in 2014, which is tentatively scheduled for early October!

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