When the Stars Line Up: How Mainstream Media Can Inspire Girls Into Engineering and Science

Editor's Note: This post is part of a series produced by HuffPost's Girls In STEM Mentorship Program. Join the community as we discuss issues affecting women in science, technology, engineering and math.

Most mainstream films portray women in a supporting role where whatever they do is geared to make the male protagonist look good. "Help, Popeye! Save me!"

So we were extremely excited when we heard director Alfonso Cuarón was going to make a thriller with Sandra Bullock playing the lead role as an intrepid engineer and problem solver. Although they get much of the actual physics wrong, the overall message to girls is so powerful and so rare that we really wanted to celebrate it. Girls (and boys) need to see many more examples of women leading, solving hard problems and being fiercely independent and the mainstream movies are a great vehicle for such messages. I've written a bit about why girls don't grok physics, so it's exciting to see that Dr Ryan White does.

We at Iridescent (my science education nonprofit) were so excited about Gravity, that we launched an online science competition, Gravity Design Challenge, riffing off the theme of the movie. Thirteen-year-old Eiley Hartzell-Jordan from Carrboro, North Carolina, won the contest for her exceptional entry -- an intricate Rube Goldberg space machine, including a launcher, a transfer mechanism, and a gravity well.

Seriously, how many 13-year-olds in your neighborhood could come up with that? Like all the family science projects on our Curiosity Machine website, this one included a skilled mentor to share feedback. This open-ended engineering design competition was rigorous, and Eiley spent more than ten hours tinkering on her stellar creation, demonstrating her creativity, curiosity and persistency.

I hope that Gravity inspires more of our girls to give engineering a try and to think of themselves as leaders.