The Academic & Research Center was a sea of brown and green vests this weekend.
Girl Scouts Day on Saturday drew girls in second through eighth grade from Athens-area troops to participate in engineering and technology activities organized by the student chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) at Ohio University's Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ College of Engineering.
With activities like building bridges out of toothpicks and candy, and designing catapults made from popsicle sticks, the girls got hands-on experience with key engineering concepts.
Five disciplines – mechanical, electrical, chemical, civil, and industrial and systems engineering – were showcased in the activities, but making “oobleck” with the chemical engineers was a clear crowd favorite. The non-Newtonian fluidreacts to pressure instead of reacting to temperature and becomes a solid when squished.
“I have to tell our science teacher about this,” declared Aariah Long, age 13 as the room boomed with excitement.
That kind of excitement is just what the organizers were hoping for. SWE faculty advisor and Assistant Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering Diana Schwerha said such outreach events are important to expose young girls to science and technology concepts and careers when they’re developing goals for their futures.
“It provides role models for the girls and shows the girls that engineering can be fun, and it is possible for a girl to be an engineer,” Schwerha said.
SWE President Marissa Singley says she thinks not enough girls enter the engineering field. Like other SWE members at the event, she wants girls to get involved in science and to not be afraid of sticking with it.
“Science is fun. It’s not just for smart people, and it’s not just for guys. There’s no stereotype behind science,” she said.
For the civil engineering activity, each team constructed a bridge made from toothpicks and gumdrops to see which bridge supported the most weight – as measured by Jolly Ranchers. The team that made the strongest bridge won the candy. Other activities included building Lego cars and a lesson about coding accompanied by a video about the Russ College’s national champion autonomous snowplow.
After winning the bridge competition with her team, Abby Brown, age 7, said the gumdrop bridge was her favorite activity.
“You get to build, and you get to eat the candy!” she proclaimed.
Research by the Girl Scout Research Institute in 2012, published in the report Generation STEM, found that of the 81 percent of girls who are interested in STEM careers, only 13 percent see a STEM career as their top choice. The study also found that 57 percent of the girls surveyed felt that they would have to work harder than a man if they chose to pursue a STEM career.
Members of SWE are aware of the odds they are up against, and Saturday’s volunteers did their part to pass along the fun of science. SWE has been hosting this event for young girls on and off over the past 15 years. With this year’s turnout of 38 girls participating this year – well beyond the average 20 attendees in years past – SWE officers and Girl Scout leaders locally are seeing success with their efforts to encourage and attract more young women into scientific fields with engaging and fun science activities.
Jean Thuma, the service unit administrator for Girl Scouts in the Athens area, believes in promoting the STEM disciplines in girls early in their development, a sentiment that dovetails with a national Girl Scouts campaign meant to help girls go out and discover themselves, connect with others, and make a difference in the world.
“Often times when girls get to middle school and high school age they have this perception coming from media or just through their friends that girls can’t do math and science,” Thuma said. “Why can’t a girl do that?”
Civil engineering freshman Jennah Rawahneh, SWE vice president and a former Girl Scout herself, was excited to create for good through the local troops and her student organization.
“Now I get the chance to show other Girl Scouts something I'm interested in and give them an opportunity to learn about something,” said Rawahneh.
By the end of the day, the SWE leaders saw what they predict to be future engineering Bobcats.
“Some of these girls are 14, and they could be first-year Russ College students in only a few years,” said Schwerha. “Without these types of events, younger girls would not get enough exposure to engineering and the fun field that it is.”