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Paving the way for more girls to enter the engineering field with gumdrop bridges and bags of colorful goop, the Society for Women Engineers (SWE)student chapter from Ohio University’s Russ College of Engineering and Technology took two experiments to a local Daisy Scout troop Wednesday.
Nine members of the women engineering student group led activities for the troop of 20 kindergarteners and first-graders at East Elementary School in Athens to demonstrate some basic engineering concepts: weight-bearing structures and the effects of pressure on chemical properties of a substance.
“Science can really be fun if presented in the right way,” said SWE President Marissa Singley, a senior mechanical engineering major. “Getting girls involved in math and science at a young age is important to help carry their interest through to the middle, high school and even college years.”
Working on teams of four or five, the girls rotated through two experiments. In one activity, the girls constructed bridges out of gumdrop candies and toothpicks, and two teams at a time tested how many Jolly Ranchers their structure could hold.
“My favorite part was finding out how many Jolly Ranchers it was holding,” said first-grader Abby Stroh, who quickly identified triangles as the supporting shapes on the sides of the bridge design at the start of the activity.
“Triangles are stronger than squares,” explained Emily Siler, a senior civil engineering major from Dayton, before loading the bridges with Jolly Ranchers to see which team’s bridge held the most weight.
For the second experiment, the girls each created a bag of “oobleck” – or goo – by combining cornstarch and water, plus a few drops of food dye to make it their favorite color.
“See how it’s liquid when you lay it flat, and then you squeeze it, and it’s solid,” explained Natasha Norris, a sophomore electrical engineering major from Marietta, as the girls dipped their hands in the runny substance.
In addition to getting messy, the Daisy Scouts got a deeper understanding of some complex ideas, like structural integrity.
“We learned that you have to put the toothpick in far to make it strong,” said kindergartner Beatrice Zulia-Davis.
The Russ College students also took time to explain engineering majors at OHIO and helped relate their studies to the children’s everyday experiences, such as how computer science helps their parents’ smart phones know what to do when they push a button, and how chemical engineers put the scent in shampoo.
“I loved seeing the girls make the connection between engineering and where they see it in their everyday lives: in bridges, their parents’ smart phones and getting their hands dirty making oobleck,” said troop co-leader Liz Pahl. “Equally important is that they see young women studying engineering in college, and that it’s an option for them if they’re interested in the types of topics they learned about today.”