In an attempt to turn these statistics around, the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) created the FEMME program in 1981 to excite girls about careers in math and science. For the last several years, Union City girls have taken advantage of it.
"We started the program for ninth to 10th grade girls, and [through increased funding] we increased our grade levels," Suzanne Heyman, program director.
The Femme Program reintroduces young girls to aeronautical, biomedical, and mechanical engineering. There are six summer workshops in engineering for girls from the fourth to the 10th grade. Some of them have the girls experiment with launching rockets, designing roller coasters, and analyzing chocolate.
"All our students are hand-selected, need three letters of recommendation, and must take a placement test," said Heyman.
In collaboration with the Union City Board of Education, NJIT has had massive surge of Union City girls attending the program. Many have continued on to careers in different facets of engineering.
"I'm interested in engineering and I heard my friend talking about it; she said it was a great environment," said Nicki Russo, 11, Woodrow Wilson School.
Entrance into the programs is based on applications and teacher recommendations. students must have an A or B average to qualify, and go on an interview. Once in the programs and depending on their progress, the girls are invited back to continue each year.
"The first year, my teacher recommended me for the program because I had high grades," said Mervy Rizkalla, 11, Washington School. "I like all my subjects, especially math and science, and it's really important to get a good education to get a good job."
While the girls in Femme Academy, grades nine through 10, work on computer engineering, the elementary femme workshops, which are Femme 4 through Femme 8, offer girls environmental, mechanical, chemical, and biomedical sciences.
For the girls in the Femme 5 workshop, however, it's all about taking flight through the science of aeronautical engineering.
"This is my fourth year teaching in the program, and the experience has always been phenomenal," said Carolyn Agrusti, main instructor for Femme 5.
Although the study of aeronautics can be a difficult subject, even for adults, the material presented to the girls introduces them to the basics such as why things fly and the different parts of aircrafts.
"The material is very specific to their age group," said Agrusti. "It's very general such as the four forces that make flight; we cover the history of space exploration as much as we can; and the parts of a plane."
Agrusti focuses her two-hour class time on giving the girls hands-on experience. They make their own rockets with real engines, construct balsawood gliders that take flight, or launch hot air balloons using propane.
"Everything we learn, we get to see, touch, and make," said Agrusti. "You learn by doing."
In addition to the three in-class projects, Agrusti has taken the girls on field trips, where they got to experiences places such as Teterboro Airport's Aviation Hall of Fame and learn about New Jersey's pilots and history in aviation.
"Retired pilots came to talk to us about their experience, and how they were really strapped in to [the aircrafts]," said Mervy Rizkalla.
The girls also had the chance to simulate a space mission at the Buehler Challenger Center in Montclair, from the operations of a shuttle to mission control.
"I would like to focus on engineering [in college]; its great to know that you can make a difference," said Nicki. "I want to take up a career in building rockets, and making blueprints for rockets."
According to recent reports by the National Science Foundation, the number of women pursuing careers in the scientific and mathematics fields has been increasing. About 19 percent of the female population in the U.S. have gone on to pursue bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in scientific fields.
"We keep track of our girls, and send them surveys every year to find out what they're doing," said Heyman. "About 22 percent of our girls pursue and complete careers in [different fields of engineering]," said Rosa Cano, associate director of curriculum for Pre-College Center at NJIT.
NJIT also offers many other summer education programs offered to all Union City students, including preparation for state exams and the SATs. This year, 120 Union City students attended NJIT's summer programs, and 51 were girls.
The summer classes ended last Thursday, August 4, with a barbeque and awards ceremony attended by the girls' families and friends.
NJIT is the state's public technological research university, and is renowned for expertise in architecture, applied mathematics, wireless communications and networking, solar physics, advanced engineered particulate materials, nanotechnology, neural engineering and eLearning.
For more information on NJIT's Femme Program, call the Union City Board of Education at (201) 271-2282, or visit NJIT's website at www.njit.edu.