Questions are young woman’s most powerful tool
“I’d never seen a girl use a power tool before so I never realized I could,” said Westview High School junior Olivia Yin-Dolvig. Now she is showing other young women the way as part of the first Million Girls Moonshot flight crew. (Photo by Jake Arnold, OSBA)
Olivia Yin-Dolvig joined the Westview High School robotics team as a freshman, one of four girls. She had been building things all her life, but she hung back in the robotics room, intimidated by the boys’ confidence.
“I felt like I should just watch, I should just listen, all these people know much more than me, my ideas probably aren’t very good,” she said.
No more. After COVID-19 wiped out robotics her sophomore year, Yin-Dolvig returned this school year determined to speak up for her ideas and also to draw out the experiences of other girls.
“I realized what I really wanted was someone to ask me what I was thinking, so I’m just trying to do that for them,” said the Beaverton junior.
The Million Girls Moonshot has asked Yin-Dolvig to encourage girls everywhere. The moonshot is a national promotional campaign that aims to engage an additional 1 million girls over the next five years in afterschool and summer programs for science, engineering, technology and mathematics.
Yin-Dolvig was named to the campaign’s first “flight crew.” The 16 crew members from around the country are ambassadors to help break down stereotypes and spark girls’ interest in science and engineering.
Yin-Dolvig said people often assume girls aren’t speaking up because they are shy. In reality, she said, they get scared in male-dominated environments where boys are frequently jumping in and talking over others. That’s why she is trying to ask girls more questions in class and on robotics and encouraging other girls, coaches and teachers to do the same.
“Once you ask that first question, they have so many more questions,” Yin-Dolvig said. “There is so much they are thinking about but just not saying.”
Yin-Dolvig wants to be a mechanical engineer, a field not traditionally embraced by women. Women make up only 9.4% of U.S. mechanical engineers, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics from 2021.
The Beaverton School District is working to recruit more students into career and technical education pathways that are dominated by one gender, such as engineering, said John Peplinski, who leads the district’s CTE education programs. The district started “Future Labs” in all its middle schools this year to show students more of their options.
Since the 2016 passage of Measure 98 to dedicate money to career and college-readiness programs, Beaverton has doubled its CTE pathways, which often include hands-on, STEM-related classes.
Peplinski said there is a snowball effect to increasing girls’ participation. As the district hires more female teachers for the classes and brings in more female students, more girls can see themselves in those classes.
There are plans to help that awareness by honoring Yin-Dolvig at a school board meeting.
“We’re always looking at ways to showcase and promote young women in STEM,” said board member Becky Tymchuk.
No one has ever told Yin-Dolvig she can’t do something because she is a girl, she said, but she feels society’s gender stereotype pressures to go with the flow and not be bossy or assertive. She is finding, though, that she can be a leader without being loud.
“One of her superpowers is she is a great teacher,” said Meadow Park Middle School teacher Jay Ashkinos. Yin-Dolvig considers Ashkinos a mentor. She took his sixth and seventh grade classes for top academic students and was his teacher’s aide in eighth grade.
Yin-Dolvig is an exceptional student, Ashkinos said. She wrote a curriculum for a class lesson he still uses, and a disproportionate number of the class-built machines displayed in his room came from Yin-Dolvig.
Ashkinos said that Yin-Dolvig, like a lot of girls, started his class seemingly shy and quiet, but once she was asked to lead a group project she started to find her confidence.
On a recent day in a Westview computer aided design class, Yin-Dolvig’s self-assurance was evident as she showed two boys how to use the 3D printers. The class’s teacher, Furl Kamaka`ala, said boys in the class who wouldn’t ask an older boy for help will often turn to Yin-Dolvig.
Kamaka`ala said female participation in his career and technical education classes has increased over the years but is still well below half. He encourages pictures and videos of girls using power tools for the first time so they can share them with family and friends. He said Yin-Dolvig is a role model.
“She is doing things most other girls aren’t doing, and they get to see it,” he said.
Yin-Dolvig is interested in more than just machines. She is the foundation director for YouthVenture, a youth-led organization that spotlights BIPOC-owned businesses through podcasts. Yin-Dolvig is part Chinese.
She also enjoys hiking and biking and is active in the Girl Scouts. She said she now appreciates how instrumental Girl Scouts has been for her by creating a girls-only space where she was forced to take the lead sometimes.
The Million Girls Moonshot aims to work with afterschool programs such as robotics to expand opportunities for girls and encourage an “engineering mindset,” said Teresa Drew. She is the deputy director of the STEM Next Opportunity Fund that is behind the Million Girls Moonshot.
Drew said Yin-Dolvig demonstrates that mindset.
“She takes what she knows, applies it to a problem in her community and comes up with a solution,” she said.
Yin-Dolvig spoke in her application video about the barriers girls face. Through the flight crew, Yin-Dolvig will have access to mentors and training on leadership skills to help her tear down those barriers.
Yin-Dolvig said she is just beginning to see her power.
“I didn’t realize how useful my insights could be,” she said.
- Jake Arnold, OSBA