How do we inspire girls to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)? An informal group of female chemists, engineers, scientists and finance professionals at McGuire Nuclear Station (McGuire) decided to help by partnering with Charlotte, N.C. based non-profit Project Scientist. The organization helps girls ages four – 12 discover the endless opportunities available to them and acquire leadership skills needed to thrive in today's STEM environments.
About 25 girls from the organization visited McGuire Nuclear Station’s energy education center, known as the EnergyExplorium, to ask questions and learn about employees' backgrounds and roles at McGuire. The panelists, many of them parents as well, discussed how they could inspire girls to pursue STEM careers. They also shared experiences in their exciting and fulfilling careers answered questions about what they do and how they got there, and described some of their successes and struggles.
During the visit, Project Scientist participants also learned how electricity is made from nuclear energy. To learn more about this process, girls took visited McGuire’s control room simulator. Again, girls met with nuclear energy experts and their curiosity was sparked by all the buttons and lights they saw upon entering the operator training center. Employees were eager to answer questions about how nuclear fission works and the training needed.
Partnerships like this benefit all involved. For Duke Energy, supporting effective education programs and initiatives that emphasize STEM is a critical focus for the utility. Nuclear energy, not unlike the electric utility industry as a whole, is facing many challenges over the coming years; none as daunting as the impending workforce talent gap. Currently, nearly 35 percent of the nuclear workforce is within five years of being retirement eligible. The statistics are similar in the overall electric industry.
For organizations like Project Scientist, hands-on educational opportunities like the visit to McGuire, builds interest and engagement in STEM related careers early on and hopefully become more widely represented as these girls advance in their scholastic career and, later, the workforce.