In 2003, three fourths of the SAT test takers wanting to major in engineering and computer science were young men. Overall, in 2001, women re p resented just 24% of the science and engineering workforce. Moreover, women employed in science and engineering professions, depending on the field, earned an average of 68 cents to 89 cents for every dollar earned by a man. Girls Inc. Operation SMART was launched in 1985 to dispel stereotypes about math and science and to invite girls ages 6 to 18 to join the fun of discovering the world around them. The approach was fun, but the purpose was serious: prepare girls for lucrative scientific and technical careers that most of them would otherwise never consider. Within a supportive, experiential, all-girl environment, Operation SMART participants have an opportunity to satisfy their curiosity about the world and to develop the personal tools necessary to pursue education and careers in the sciences.
Girls Inc. Operation SMART, one of our hallmark programs, is organized around a philosophy: equity, exploration, empowerment, and fun. Hands-on activities give girls the opportunity to explore, ask questions, and solve problems. In Operation SMART sites across the country, over half a million girls between the ages of 6 and 18 have started on the path to becoming engineers, auto mechanics, and micro surgeons. Facilitators may apply the Operation SMART approach to their own activities and settings, and/or they may choose to deliver any of our three components.
What is the Operation SMART “Formula for Success”?
- Assume girls are interested in math, science, and technology. Too many girls still get the message that math and science aren’t for them. Research shows that parents, teachers, and other adults typically expect girls not to perform as well as boys in science, math, and related subjects regardless of their interest, true potential, or demonstrated abilities. At Girls Incorporated sites, however, girls jump at the opportunity to dismantle machines, observe plants and animals, and build robots.
- Let them make big, interesting mistakes. Girls who are overly protected in the lab or on the playground have few chances to assess risks and solve problems on their own. At Girls Incorporated, once-dreaded mistakes become hypotheses. Supported rather than rescued by adults, girls learn to embrace their intellectual curiosity and trust their own judgment.
- Help them get past the “yuck” factor. Girls who are afraid of getting dirty aren’t born that way—they’re made. Girls Incorporated encourages girls to put concerns about their “femininity” aside. Girls learn that they have a right to be themselves and to resist pressure to behave in gender-stereotyped ways.
- Expect them to succeed. Girls Incorporated programs reflect our belief and expectation that girls are capable of excelling at math and science now, and of continuing to do so throughout high school, college, and beyond. They learn that their ambition is as natural as boys’—and as necessary, if they are to become leaders of the 21st Century.
An independent program evaluation showed that, after participation in OperationSMART, 75% of girls ages 6-11 reported that the program had a positive influence on their attitudes towards science. Parents rated Operation SMART highly (92% average) as a positive influence on their daughters’ attitudes towards science.