Friday, June 22, 2018
Business

GoldiBlox engineers path to STEM careers for girls

Move over, Barbie: There's a new girl in town. She goes by GoldieBlox, and unlike her namesake, Goldilocks, this Goldie is a female engineer character who invents, designs and builds to inspire a future generation of women engineers.

GoldieBlox is the brainchild of Stanford University graduate and engineer-turned-entrepreneur Debbie Sterling. She created GoldieBlox — which includes a construction toy set and storybook starring the tool-wielding character Goldie — to teach girls basic engineering skills and open more pathways for women to pursue jobs in the male-dominated industry.

"I'm trying to give girls something more than just dolls and princesses," she said.

Sterling, 30, hopes that the soon-to-be-released GoldieBlox will teach more girls to love tech-heavy disciplines and open their minds to engineering. And if Sterling can shake up the old-school toy industry, all the better, she said.

"If you're a little girl, you have Barbie and Polly Pocket," Sterling said. "You have fashion icons and beauty and spa, and you're told what's important is what you look like."

But this isn't just a plug for girl power; GoldieBlox has caught the attention of researchers and educators who say the toy could help engage more girls in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM.

The GoldieBlox book, written and illustrated by Sterling, follows Goldie as she invents machines and solves problems with a cast of animal friends that includes a Spanish-speaking dog, Nacho, and a tutu-wearing pink dolphin. The pegboard and tool kit allow kids to build whatever Goldie is building in the book, and learn engineering concepts, like how a wheel and axle work and the basics of tension, force and friction.

"I can't wait to have her sitting there on store shelves in her overalls and her tool belt, because I think that that sends a strong message," Sterling said.

The message is this: Engineering isn't just for boys.

Toys are a crucial entry point for kids to get exposure to STEM disciplines, and girls miss out on some of the early playtime experiences necessary to develop those skills, said Yvonne Ng, who heads St. Catherine University's National Center for STEM Elementary Education.

"We're not engaging girls. We're still thinking in very male terms," Ng said.

By the fifth grade, Ng said, many girls have "checked out" of math and science, which they see as a boys' subjects where girls can't succeed. That self-doubt extends to higher education, where girls are more likely to drop out of science- and math-based majors. "There's this belief that they're not competent, even if their grades say they are," Ng said. "Women don't feel like an engineer. They feel like an imposter."

Sterling, who graduated from Stanford with an engineering degree in 2005, developed Goldie­Blox with help from Kickstarter, an online crowd-funding platform. She raised $286,000 — almost twice her goal — in about a month. After her fundraising video went viral on social media, she received about 22,000 online orders for the toy, which brought in money to start production.

The project was inspired by the gender inequity Sterling witnessed. "I was one of very few women in the (engineering) program," she said. "In every class I went into, I was always one of a handful of girls in a room of 80 or 90 people. It's hard being a minority in a male-dominated field."

According to studies by the American Association of University Women, about 87 percent of professional engineers are men.

Sterling hopes GoldieBlox will move that statistic in the favor of women. The toy lands on store shelves next month, but the first 18,000 preordered copies are set to be delivered this month. Already, Sterling has plans to make GoldieBlox into a series and says she's set to launch an interactive digital version for the iPad late this year.

The successes, or failures, of GoldieBlox will be carefully tracked by a Pennsylvania State University professor and graduate student who will spend the next couple of years studying the effect the toy has on girls. Lynn Liben, a distinguished professor of psychology who is leading the research, said that GoldieBlox is one of the few toys that breaks the gender stereotypes reinforced by the toy industry. "Many toy companies are still marketing to boys versus girls," Liben said. "It tells people that boys and girls are different when it comes to playing or building or getting dirty. That can be problematic because not every kid fits that gender tendency that might be typical."

Comments
Tampa Bay workforce development initiative looks to Houston for lessons

Tampa Bay workforce development initiative looks to Houston for lessons

The biggest hospitals in Houston had a problem.To earn a prized institutional certification, they needed more nurses with bachelor of science degrees in nursing.But local colleges were more focused on turning out nurses with two-year degrees who, to ...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Health care IT company CareSync shuts down, laying off 292

Health care IT company CareSync shuts down, laying off 292

TAMPA — The days ahead were supposed to be bright.For weeks, the future of health care tech company CareSync had been thrown into question as founder and CEO and founder Travis Bond unexpectedly departed, kicking off multiple rounds of layoffs. But t...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Coal and gas hold onto their share of electricity production, despite massive push for renewables

Coal and gas hold onto their share of electricity production, despite massive push for renewables

Here’s an intriguing set of facts: Coal produces the same percentage of the world’s electricity as 20 years ago. Oil and gas remain about level, too.Same for nonfossil fuel sources. In other words, the massive push towards renewables over the past co...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Brink: Why have Florida’s working-age men left the labor market in droves

Brink: Why have Florida’s working-age men left the labor market in droves

A cancer lurks within Florida’s otherwise rosy job numbers, one that’s been called a quiet catastrophe and an intractable time bomb.Too many men between the ages of 25 and 54 have stopped working.Economists call those the prime-age years. Incomes gen...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Pride divided no more: St. Pete Pride comes back together

Pride divided no more: St. Pete Pride comes back together

ST. PETERSBURG — The 16th annual St. Pete Pride Parade is getting ready to march along the downtown waterfront the second straight year. But many hope to move past the division caused last year when the parade was uprooted from its original hom...
Published: 06/22/18
For sale: A Tampa Bay area elementary school where you can eat tacos and buy wine

For sale: A Tampa Bay area elementary school where you can eat tacos and buy wine

ST. PETERSBURG — For sale: a 104-year-old elementary school with restaurant and wine shop. It even has a title company where you can close the deal.Less than a year after completing a major renovation of the historic North Ward school, developer Jona...
Published: 06/22/18
Domain Homes: Buyers love them, some others don’t

Domain Homes: Buyers love them, some others don’t

TAMPA — When the 2008 financial crash brought down the nation’s housing market, hundreds of home builders went out of business. Among them was Sharon McSwain Homes in Atlanta, forced to liquidate in 2009.But just as developers like to develop, builde...
Published: 06/21/18
Updated: 06/22/18
Armature Works developers sue Ulele and city of Tampa over use of nearby building

Armature Works developers sue Ulele and city of Tampa over use of nearby building

TAMPA — Two of the city’s hottest developers — the companies behind Ulele and the Armature Works — are heading to court over control of an old city building that sits between the hit eateries. Both want to redevelop the city&...
Published: 06/21/18
Orlando airport first to scan faces of U.S. citizens on international flights

Orlando airport first to scan faces of U.S. citizens on international flights

Associated PressFlorida’s busiest airport is becoming the first in the nation to require a face scan of passengers on all arriving and departing international flights, including U.S. citizens, according to officials there. The expected announcement T...
Published: 06/21/18
Saboteur or whistleblower? Battle between Elon Musk and former Tesla employee turns ugly, exposing internal rancor

Saboteur or whistleblower? Battle between Elon Musk and former Tesla employee turns ugly, exposing internal rancor

Hours after Tesla had sued its former employee on charges he had stolen company secrets, and days after chief Elon Musk had called him a saboteur, the Silicon Valley automaker made a startling claim. The company had received a call from a friend of t...
Published: 06/21/18