UA female rocket team encourage girls to choose careers in engineering

Women make up less than 15 percent of the engineering workforce. Fewer than one in one thousand women are aerospace engineers. An all-girls rocket team at the University of Alabama is working to change that fact. They're called the Rocket Girls.

The Rocket Girls have only been around for three years, and already they've made a mark in college engineering. They are the only all female rocket team to compete in the Annual Student Launch Initiative, a competition managed by NASA.

"One of our mechanical professors which is now the aerospace department head, he actually came to use with the idea of an all female rocketry team," said team captain, Shelby Cochran.

Last year the team placed sixth out of 50 teams.

"Basically the challenge is to build a rocket that will reach an apogee or maximum height of one mile while obtaining data from an experimental payload," said Cochran.

Not only do they want to propel their own careers, but the team wants to recruit and inspire more female students for engineering. For that to happen, the imaginations of young girls must be captured sooner rather than later.

The Rocket girls are used to the stares when they are competing. That's because STEM careers - science, technology, engineering and math - are mostly comprised of male students. On the college level, females make up less than one in five students enrolled as engineering majors.

Research show girls lose interest in math and science during middle school. Which is why the Rocket Girls say stereotypes associated with women and engineering must be addressed early.

"A lot of what we do with NASA is outreach. We go to schools, we talk to younger girls. There are some girls that don't even know that girls can be engineers," said Cochran.

Assistant professor James Hubner says math and science are the languages spoken by engineers. He encourages girls to go beyond the basic requirements for math and science.

"So doing well in those courses, taking algebra one in eighth grade and opening the doors to the higher level maths is important. And taking all of your sciences; a chemistry, a biology and hopefully physics," said Hubner.

"One kid, one person, that's all it takes to change the world," said team member, Noelle Ridleguber.