Banu Örmeci, a Canada Research Chair and Professor in Carleton University’s Faculty of Engineering and Design, believes that early experience is the key to nurturing girls’ interest in STEM. “Curiosity is abundant during youth, making it an excellent time to introduce science, and engineering,” she says. “Unfortunately, many girls aren’t exposed to STEM at a young age.” Örmeci specializes in environmental engineering — a relatively new field.

Exposure through youth programs

Youth programs such as Virtual Ventures (VV) foster girls’ enthusiasm for STEM subjects through all-female programs. “We put them in an environment with like-minded girls, where they can be themselves and not worry about making mistakes,” explains Mawuena Torkornoo, Director of VV. “Learning is all about experimentation, and we provide them an opportunity to explore their potential.” Female participants experiment with digital wearable technologies and design their own apps, among other activities. VV was recently presented with the 2015 Actua Experience Award - National Girls Program.

Torkornoo notes that VV is heavily mentorship-based. “We introduce role models who demonstrate that girls are equally capable and are thriving in their fields,” she explains. This past summer, Hannah Johnston, a former VV Director who now works for Google as a User Experience Designer, returned to act as a mentor and discuss exciting career opportunities with the girls. “One of the great things about technology is that you really can be empowered to come up with a concept and then just make it,” says Johnston. “Virtual Ventures helped me think about technology in terms of the fun projects I could accomplish, contributing to my positive perception of STEM.”