Mumbai: Science and Engineering disciplines in India are the most male-dominated fields. For K-10 education, there is almost equal participation from men and women.
However, the ratio is highly skewed towards males for higher education, especially in rural parts of India. Many girls are encouraged to get married early and focus on the family instead of their careers. They choose disciplines such that they can work part-time while supporting family needs.
Many girls will give up on higher education and leave the career path due to societal pressures.
As a part of the IIT Bombay outreach activity, we are introducing a new program – WiSE (Women in Science Engineering from Rural Parts of India) under the leadership of Professor Rajesh Zele from the Department of Electrical Engineering. “Our goal is to reach out to the girls studying in ninth grade from rural parts of India and get them excited about STEM. We will be mentoring them over the long term and helping them make wise decisions about their future and career choices. We are keeping the teachers and parents involved throughout the process as it is vital for the long-term success of the program.”
During the week of May 22, 2023, 160 girls accompanied by their science and math teachers arrived at IIT Bombay from 40 schools in the rural parts of Maharashtra, Bihar, and Odisha. They got a feel for campus life at IIT by staying in Hostel 15 for a week.
During the week, they had an intensive schedule from 9 AM to 7 PM for performing various activities. Over 70 student volunteers made sure that the entire program was executed flawlessly.
Each day started with an interactive discussion with Winspirers (Women Inspirers) from diverse backgrounds and professions. Savita Dakle inspired the girls with her story of going from failing 10th grade and being married off to now leading a million farmers all over India by providing insights online.
Sneha Kulkarni took the girls on a gripping tale of her flight experiences as the first woman helicopter air force pilot. Psychologist Dr. Minal Joshi addressed mental health issues faced by adolescent girls, advising them through a detailed Q&A session. Microbiologist Mugdha Belwalkar conducted various enlightening chemistry experiments. Manisha Giri narrated her heart-wrenching journey of making a tradeoff between family and career to become a very successful Super 30 primary teacher.
Math wizard Prof. Sivganga Udhan articulated how her love for math kept her going through challenging times. Prof. Sandhya Sreekumar and Prof. Supriya Poduval Pal helped break the stigma surrounding menstruation, encouraging young girls to speak up about this issue. Dr. Zehra Husain spoke about creating her own identity in a male-dominated field as the first woman neurosurgeon, also showing a recorded brain tumour removal surgery.
Valentina Grieco came all the way from Milan, Italy, to have a conversation with the girls about her life experiences, exposing them to foreign cultures. In the afternoon, each girl went through an exciting hands-on BMP (Break-Make-Program it) experiences using the kits developed at aiCAS Lab, IIT Bombay. In the first two days, they gradually went from building a simple light bulb circuit to a complex FM radio.
Next, they built various sensor and actuator circuits controlled by a simple microprocessor, thus introducing them to programming. On the fourth day, the girls built a remote-controlled Rover Robot from scratch. This
involved mechanical as well as electronic engineering creating a lot of excitement among the girls. The
grand finale was building a small drone that each girl got to fly. Seeing the euphoria on the girls’ faces
as they got to fly the drones that they built with their own hands was truly priceless.
Each girl got to experience Virtual Reality (VR) using a state-of-the-art VR headset. At the end of the
day, the girls learned how to solve the Rubik’s Cube from one of India’s top speedcubers. A majority of
the girls were able to solve the cube within five minutes.
As a token of appreciation to everyone who made the WiSE Program possible, the girls organized a
felicitation ceremony with a talent show. They gifted personalized artwork to each contributor.
To ensure the long-term success of the girls, IIT Bombay students will mentor and follow up with them
via online platforms. Every quarter, we will conduct online meets with the students, teachers, and
parents. All the technical kits used by the girls throughout the program will be provided to the parent
schools so that the girls can create a local impact.
The WiSE program will be conducted annually with different schools from rural parts to fulfill the ambitions of the National Education Policy (NEP) to curtail the dropout rates of Socio-Economically Disadvantaged Groups (SEDGs).