SWE reaches out to local high schools

This past Saturday, the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) held an outreach event for young pre-college students. It was designed to spur and fuel the flames of interest in math, science and engineering within the minds of high school girls.

The event was organized by Melissa Watkins, fourth-year EE. “The SWE has been doing this for years,” Watkins said. “There’s a middle school and high school outreach. Last year we had over 400 applicants.” Able to accommodate only 100 girls, the organization decided to do a second program in the Spring semester.

“We wanted to expose high school girls to what engineering is,” Watkins said.

“This is a day for them to learn, hands-on, what engineering project. Then, we give them presentations and lab tours. We contacted different student organizations to give presentations.”

The event started with a hands-on activity with the purpose of helping the girls understand the thought processes needed to be an engineer.

Everything in this activity was accomplished using household items, such as cups, popsicle sticks and string.

At the end of the event, each group presented the labors of their work, displaying a wide range of the creative spectrum.

The girls participating in the event gained useful skills such as the scientific method and the importance of reviewing and redesigning as well as general resourcefulness.

After this, some of the event organizers spoke about what sparked their own personal interest in engineering.

“I decided to be an engineer because my dad always works with engineers and my brother was a biomedical engineer, plus I was always good at math and science,” said Chrissy Carnavos, first-year ME.

“I went to a program on engineering at Maryland and that’s what got me set. The reason I wanted to be an engineer is because I love Disney and I wanted to be an Imagineer; that’s why I’m an ME.”

“I realized there’s a lot you can do with engineering,” said Mary Katherine, first-year ChBE. “I was really inspired by the Engineers Without Borders talk. That really struck a chord and inspired me. I’m a chemical engineering major. A lot of the problems can be tied to engineering like bringing clean water or alternative fuels.”

The next phase of the event was a presentation on a popular engineering topic—robotics—by Andy Bardagjiy, fourth-year EE.

He discussed the new problems that face robotic engineers today and the exceedingly more important concept of user-friendly creations, especially in the robotics industry. This included replacing devices such as the keyboard with expression and voice readers.

He also discussed the multiple applications of many fields in engineering, such as robotics being used to help autistic children become more social. At the same time, he also touched on the ethical concerns of such projects.

One of the main concerns was the ‘uncanny valley,’ a robotic psychology phenomenon in which the slight deviation from reality in a machine causes great distress and discomfort for the human user.

He ended his presentation with an introduction to Tech’s Robojackets, and the many events they participate in.

At this point, the lab tours began. The students began touring the Electrical Engineering Propagation Lab, the Materials Science Biomaterials Lab and the biomedical facilities.

Biomedical Engineering was noticeably more popular among the students, and some of them had to transfer to the other tours instead.

The lab tours concluded with lunch and a presentation by two former Tech students working in the industry and answer questions about life after college.

This was followed by another presentation by the people designing the EcoCar: a national advanced vehicle car challenge for making new technologies that increase mileage, decrease emissions, decrease petroleum consumption and main consumer acceptability.

Finally, the event ended with a panel discussion with six Tech students commenting about their various experiences at Tech.

The students represented a wide array of majors and levels, from AE to BME and third-year to doctoral students.

Watkins herself plans on continuing to work in education even after college. “My future job with National Instruments has an educational aspect to it. I really look forward to working with that division of the company,” Watkins said.

She said that surveys were issued to participants at the end of the event to gather feedback.

“[The outreach event] is growing in popularity, so we don’t know how many times a year we’ll do it. Our goal is to show high school girls what engineering is and open up their world to all that it has to offer,” Watkins said.