This past week, I accompanied the participants of the Alternatives for Girls prevention program on a field trip to the headquarters of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA). When the girls had heard they were going to visit a car company, they did not seem enthused. Their first field trip sites, a waterpark and a skate rink, had been more recreational than didatic, and they did not seem open to something outside of that mold. However, the programming put on by FCA was thoroughly impressive to both the children and adults of our group, and I believe it had a huge imapct on how the girls will think about their futures.
At first, all the girls understood was that they were in some fancy, marble-covered building where people wore ID badges and ate intricate meals in an expansive dining hall. They thought of the building as strange and separate from themselves. This perception began to change when they met the women that were hosting them, members of a coalition focus on women’s leadership development within Fiat Chrysler. The women all introduced themselves and talked a bit about their jobs in finance, marketing, engineering, design, and more. They emphasized that for whatever interest the girls might have – drawing, building, selling, etc. – there was a job for it at Fiat Chrysler. And then they went on to show the girls how they coulld be part of that in a more interactive way.
The girls took a tour of all the rooms used to test cars under different conditions, including a wind tunnel and a freezer. The girls were entertained by the flashiness of this, but they also continued to receive messages about women in STEM. Two of the presenters that the girls listened to on this tour were women employed by the company, showing the girls by example that they had a place there. Yet another engineer talked with the girls about the key get hired at FCA one day: doing well in school, especially math. Thus, the program not only showed the girls that such a job could be a goal for them, but gave them an understanding of how to reach that goal.
The girls also got the opportunity to learn how cars get designed, which certainly spoke to the more artistic members of the group. They went from station to station to sketch, model, and choose colors for their cars, and even got to meet the designer of one of FCA’s latest minivan models! Both these experiences and what they had learned on the tour made it possible for me to strike up encouraging conversations with the girls later. I asked them about whether they saw themselves possibly working here some day, and whether they thought they could handle the work it would take to get there. Based upon the affirmative answers I heard, I can tell that this trip to FCA truly influenced how the girls thought about their career options, and I am so appreicative of that.