Wednesday, February 17, 2010

New Direction for SmartGirl: Career Development

For a long time we've known that we wanted to add new content to SmartGirl. One of the great things SmartGirl has going for it is that it already attracts a large audience of tons of girls from all over the world. Here at the Women in Science and Engineering Program at the University of Michigan, we wanted to provide information that could help all those girls consider these careers in which women are traditionally underrepresented, such as careers in science, math, engineering, and technology.

First, we had a User Survey. This survey told us that girls were interested in homework help, career information, information on summer and after-school programs, surveys and quizzes, personalization, and more.

We considered all of their suggestions. At first we were really interested in providing homework help, but there are already great sites for this, like, InfoPlease, HomeworkHelp, HomeworkSpot, and more! If we were going to provide a really good homework help service, we'd have to employ tons of tutors with tons of different specialties and try to have someone around all the time just in case someone had a question. It just wasn't the right direction for us.

We started to consider career information more seriously. This was much more promising! Most career information out there is aimed at much older audiences, such as college students and recent college graduates looking for their first job. The profiles tended to be in all text and were organized by college major -- something most middle-schoolers are still undecided on! The truth was, there was a lot of great information out there, but it didn't seem to be exciting or accessible to our audience.

And that's worrisome, because research on career development suggests that boys and girls start limiting their career options by middle school. For example, young students are more likely to limit career interest to those careers which they have had the most exposure to, such as parent's careers and common jobs like police officer, teacher, and "the boop-boop person at the check-out line." Additionally, students are likely to "know" how careers are gender-typed by middle school, and are likely to foresee themselves in careers in line with their perceived gender identity. Such passive career interests at this early age can influence which high school courses and electives students decide to take, which in turn affects college major and real career opportunities down the line.

In light of this research and our users' interest in career information, we've decided to add career profile information that is media rich, interactive, and aimed at middle-schoolers. In addition, we hope to increase middle-schoolers' active participation in their career development by encouraging them to explore and get to know their own interests. Then we'll help them relate those interests to different careers and hopefully introduce them to careers they might never have considered otherwise.

For example, did you ever consider that scientists write books, too? You might be surprised how far your interests can take you, if you just take the time to look!

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