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Originally published March 12, 2013 at 6:34 PM | Page modified March 12, 2013 at 6:33 PM

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GoldieBlox hopes young girls find playing engineer ‘just right’

Meet Goldie, a female-engineer character who invents, designs and builds to inspire young girls to be scientists or engineers.

San Jose Mercury News

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I checked out Goldie. She puts Barbie to shame. Yeah, baby. MORE
@ridgel, your comment is alarming. i hope you don't share it with your daughter... MORE
condor5, Do some research. Engineers are not admired today, software developers are... MORE

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Move over, Barbie; there’s a new girl in town.

She goes by GoldieBlox, and unlike her namesake, Goldilocks, she doesn’t get into mishaps with three bears. This Goldie is a female engineer character who invents, designs and builds to inspire a future generation of women engineers.

GoldieBlox is the brainchild of Stanford University graduate and engineer-turned-entrepreneur Debbie Sterling. She created GoldieBlox — which includes a construction toy set and storybook starring the tool-wielding Goldie — to teach girls basic engineering skills and open more pathways for women to pursue jobs in the male-dominated industry.

“I’m trying to give girls something more than just dolls and princesses,” she said.

Sterling, 30, hopes that the soon-to-be-released GoldieBlox will teach more girls to love tech-heavy disciplines and open their minds to engineering. And if it can shake up the old-school toy industry, which for years has offered girls little more than busty dolls and pink Legos, all the better, she said.

But this isn’t just a plug for girl power. Oakland, Calif.-based GoldieBlox has caught the attention of researchers and educators across the country who say the toy could help engage more girls in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, an education priority for the Obama administration.

The GoldieBlox book, written and illustrated by Sterling, follows Goldie as she invents machines and solves problems with a cast of animal friends that includes a Spanish-speaking dog, Nacho, and a tutu-wearing pink dolphin.

The pegboard and tool kit allow kids to build whatever Goldie is building in the book, and to learn engineering concepts, like how a wheel and axle work and the basics of tension, force and friction.

“I can’t wait to have her sitting there on store shelves in her overalls and her tool belt, because I think that that sends a strong message,” Sterling said.

The message is this: Engineering isn’t just for boys.

Toys are a crucial entry point for kids to get exposure to STEM disciplines, and girls miss out on some of the early playtime experiences necessary to develop those skills, said Yvonne Ng, who heads St. Catherine University’s National Center for STEM Elementary Education.

“We’re not engaging girls. We’re still thinking in very male terms,” Ng said.

Sterling, who earned her engineering degree in 2005, developed GoldieBlox with help from Kickstarter, an online crowd-funding platform for creative projects. She raised $286,000 — almost twice her goal — in about a month.

After her fundraising video went viral on social media, she received about 22,000 online pre-orders for the toy, which brought in money to start production.

According to studies by the American Association of University Women, about 87 percent of professional engineers are men.

Sterling hopes GoldieBlox will change that statistic. The toy, which sells for $30, lands on store shelves next month, but the first 18,000 pre-ordered copies are set to be delivered this week.

Already, Sterling has plans to make GoldieBlox into a series and says she’s set to launch an interactive digital version for the Apple iPad late this year.

The successes, or failures, of GoldieBlox will be carefully tracked by a Pennsylvania State University professor and graduate student. Lynn Liben, a distinguished professor of psychology who is leading the research, said GoldieBlox is one of the few toys that breaks the gender stereotypes reinforced by the toy industry.

“Many toy companies are still marketing to boys versus girls,” Liben said. “It tells people that boys and girls are different when it comes to playing or building or getting dirty. That can be problematic because not every kid fits that gender tendency that might be typical.”

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