Girlscout troups from across Los Angeles county spend the day at Google offices learning about engineering career opportunities. Alyssa Mireles, age 10 and of Girlscout Troop 8694, playes battleship games with her peers based on engineering practices. (photo by Maya Myers)

DOWNTOWN — Santa Monica’s Google office welcomed 35 Girl Scouts Friday to show them the ropes and do its part to encourage young women to study science and engineering.

The event, part of the National Engineering Week, was a collaboration between the Girl Scouts of America and Google to foster the girls’ interest in what the scouts call S.T.E.M. — science, technology, engineering and math.

The gaggle of middle school-aged girls were divided into two tour groups, each led by a female engineer at Google who led them through the complex and explained what goes on in each area of the building.

After seeing the candy dispensers, game area and massage room, many of the girls proclaimed, “I want to work here when I grow up!”

Engineers demonstrated the tougher side of the job in two workshops, an intro to algorithms and a description of Google products and how information is stored on the Web.

For some of the girls, this was already right up their alley.

“It was cool to get a look behind the scenes,” said Dana Wieland, a Girl Scouts Cadet. She participated on the robotics team over the past summer and uses Google applications on a regular basis.

Though she thinks the gender divide is getting better, she still notices it at her own school.

“All of the science teachers are male except one,” she said. “I think it’s changing, but it’s not changed.”

It’s important for girls to get exposed to opportunities like this, Jackie Lai said, one of the engineers tapped to be a tour guide and workshop leader.

“It’s always important to make sure you even out the balance and give girls the same opportunities as guys,” Lai said.

Though the numbers have improved over the years, more men than women go into tech-related jobs. Even women who enter the field are still expected to bow out of their professional lives when the time comes to raise a family.

“It’s a belief, a way of living, an expected norm,” Lai said. “And the norm is there for old reasons.”

According to the National Science Foundation, 32 percent of freshmen in higher education plan to major in a science or engineering field. Although 37.9 percent of male freshmen enter those majors, only 27.2 percent of female freshmen do.

Jean Morrison, the Vice Provost for Graduate Programs at USC and professor of Earth sciences said that more women are going into math and sciences than previously, but there is still room for improvement.

“Anything that encourages girls at that point to maintain their interest in math and science and engineering is an important part of ensuring that our girls do go on to be engineers and scientists,” Morrison said.

Activities like the Google day keep kids engaged and interested in scientific fields.

“One of the things we observe is that young children have an innate curiosity about the natural world and the way things work,” Morrison said. “Those kinds of activities expose kids to fun and joy of science.”

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