PANAMA CITY, Florida – Women fill nearly half the jobs in the U.S. economy, yet they hold less than 25 percent of all science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM jobs, a number that has not changed in the past decade, according to the Census Bureau’s 2009 American. 31 Community survey. And while engineers are the second-largest STEM occupational group today, only about one in seven engineers is female according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration.

Mindy Cannady, left, Deanne Bozeman High School, and Allysla Chesterfield, Mosley High School, check out a car they built for proper alignment during a mechanical engineering project at the iCan! Girls in Engineering event. The event, sponsored by Gulf Power, was held at Gulf Coast State College in Panama City and provided female high school students a look into engineering programs and careers, and to gain a better understanding of engineering.

Gulf Power is working to reverse this trend with the help of its female engineers who partnered with other women engineers from around Panama City on Jan. 31 to introduce female high school students to the engineering career field during the iCan! Girls in Engineering event.

More than 20 high-school girls, from freshman to seniors and hand-picked from schools throughout Bay County, took part in the day-long event at Gulf Coast State College. They listened to women engineers speak about what it takes to succeed in the career field, career paths and how to achieve them. They also listened to how women need a support system and mentors to help guide them through the sometimes-muddy waters.

Among the students was Alexis Dutton, a senior from Rutherford High School, who has her sights set on space and the stars.

“I’m interested in engineering, specifically building rockets,” said Dutton, who has already been accepted to Florida State University. “So, this is a great opportunity to learn from women who are already in engineering and hear all their tips on how to be successful.”

Adrianne Collins, Gulf Power’s Power Delivery vice president, said that this was an opportunity to expose the students to technical fields such as science and engineering, and create a support system that many of the women currently in engineering didn’t have.

“Women now make up half the national workforce, yet the gender gap in science persists, to a greater degree than in other professions, particularly in high-end, math-intensive fields such as engineering,” said Collins. “It’s our opportunity to encourage these young women and pay it forward to help them navigate through school and pursue a job of their desire. It’s also our chance to inspire them to never give up on their dreams or  let “no” for an answer dishearten them.”

Using aspects from chemical, electrical, civil and mechanical engineering, students had the opportunity to put their skills to use and build a high-heel shoe, create lip balm and bath bombs, build circuit boards, and build a race car to see which team’s creation could travel the farthest.

The students also rolled up their sleeves and participated in hands-on activities meant to boost their interest in engineering careers. Using aspects from chemical, electrical, civil and mechanical engineering, they had the opportunity to put their skills to use and build a high-heel shoe, create lip balm and bath bombs, build circuit boards, and build a race car to see which team’s creation could travel the farthest.

“I really like science,” Bay High School sophomore Annabel Andrews said. “I was invited to attend since I am interested in electrical, industrial and chemical engineering. It helped hearing what everyone had to say plus taking part in these activities helped me look at engineering in a completely different way.”

The event was a partnership between Gulf Power, Bay District Schools and Gulf Coast State College.

A “Girls’ Night” event for female middle school students interested in engineering will be February 21 at Gulf Coast State College for grades sixth through eighth to explore careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The event is from 5:15-7:30p.m at the Gulf Coast State College Advanced Technology Center. To reserve a spot call 850-767-4539 or 850-767-5299.