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Society of Women Engineers share their STEM savvy with female middle schoolers

Kaitor Kposowa | May 19, 2014
Photos by: Rebecca Miller

Society of Women Engineers share their STEM savvy with female middle schoolers

Kaitor Kposowa | May 19, 2014

Photos by: Rebecca Miller

The student chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) at Ohio University's Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ College of Engineering and Technology helped excite the next generation of women about engineering and technology on Saturday at the Tech Savvy conference at Ohio University.

Developed by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), Tech Savvy is a daylong science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) career conference designed to engage girls in sixth through ninth grade with STEM fields and to inform families about STEM education and careers.

Ohio University was one of 10 Tech Savvy pilot sites hosted by AAUW branches or states, each of which received an $8,000 grant to implement the program.

Two workshops in the Academic & Research Center focused on civil and electrical engineering.

SWE members Mira Cooper and Lexus Davis led a bridge-building workshop to demonstrate civil engineering and bridge design principles with structures made of gumdrops and toothpicks.

Cooper and Davis presented the task within a narrative about a fictional Candy Kingdom that needed to be saved by hero Finn and his dog, Jake. Students built a bridge that could support enough weight for the people of Candy Kingdom to cross.

The bridges were the length of a piece of paper, suspended over a gap between two tables. The leaders set a plastic cup on top and filled it with Jolly Ranchers until the bridge collapsed, to determine which team’s bridge could hold the most weight.

The winning bridge held 42 Jolly Ranchers before losing its structure.

“We had a good time doing it,” said Jordan Mader, an eighth-grader from Edison Middle School in Wood County, West Virginia. “It was kind of difficult, but it was unexpected that we won.”

Programs like Tech Savvy help young students understand what engineers do in the real world, Cooper said.

“When I was younger, I did a similar activity that showed me what it is engineers do,” the civil engineering sophomore said. “I just knew what my mom had told me. She was a civil engineer, too. Actually getting hands-on work with it really made me want to try and explore the field myself.”

Girls learned to make functional electric circuits in an entertaining way at another workshop called dance pad mania. Used batteries, electrical wire, aluminum foil, light bulbs, styrofoam and cardboard paper, they recreated a lighted dance pad inspired by the “Dance Dance Revolution” video game series. If the circuit was correctly designed, a light bulb would turn on when a player stepped on the cardboard pad.

Athens Middle School seventh-grader Shifra Narasimhan, whose group built a successful circuit, shared the spirit of the event’s goals.

“I feel that women should have the same opportunities as men in fields like science and math because it’s important for everyone, not just men,” she said.

Jody Markley, the Russ College director of multicultural experiences, said getting female students involved in engineering concepts helps open their minds to technical career paths as they consider their higher education and career choices.

“Events like these are really important to expose young girls to STEM concepts at a time when they typically lose interest in engineering,” Markley said. “Keeping that interest alive in engineering helps them see it as an option for them as they go on to college.”

Keynote speaker Sarah Wyatt, a professor of environmental and plant biology at Ohio University, offered her experience as a scientist as an example for the attendees, describing her research into how plants behave in space.

“Tech Savvy is incredibly important because it will give girls an opportunity to see what it’s like to go to college, and they get to look at different jobs and professions they can get with a college education,” said. “They can figure out what they should be doing now, so that they’re ready when it’s time to go to college.”