At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Society of Women Engineers has created a new tradition for the Champaign-Urbana community to look forward to: Mommy, Me, & SWE! It’s a day when 4th-6th grade girls can come with their moms to explore engineering in a fun, interactive way. Most girls come in the morning with very little interest or even knowledge about engineering as a career, and it is our goal to change that. We start off the day with Engineering Expo, where different fields of engineering (mechanical, material science, chemical, etc.) have booths with engaging activities to encourage the girls to problem solve. For example, the mechanical engineering booth teaches the girls to build catapults, launch cotton balls, and try to figure out what to change to make the cotton balls launch farther. For aerospace engineering, girls design their own rockets and try to launch them higher and higher.
After getting excited about all the things they were able to create, several engineering clubs from campus (notably the Biomedical Engineering Society, American Society of Mechanical Engineers, American Institute of Chemical Engineers, and American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics) gave demonstrations of engineers innovating at a larger scale. Girls witnessed levitating magnets, small scale hover crafts, and a mechanical arm that can be controlled with your mind before they were treated with Dip-N-Dots created right in front of them with science! Meanwhile, the moms were pulled aside with Dean Larson from the College of Engineering and several graduate and undergraduate students to discuss prejudices against women in STEM fields and ways moms can expose their daughters to engineering and better encourage it as a career option.
Finally, we wrapped up the day with a design challenge. The girls worked in tandem with their mothers to create their own wind turbine blades. The teams had to consider cost and type of materials as well as several blade characteristics (number, shape, angle, etc.) in creating their own design. When the girls were confident in their initial prototype, they attached the blades to a generator and voltmeter, created “wind” with a hair dryer, and watched their wind turbine turn! After seeing what worked and what could be improved, the girls returned to their tables to adjust their designs and problem solve, just like an engineer would do.
This fun day of engineering is growing in number every year, with this past year, the event’s 3rd, having over 30 girls in attendance. Having won the Outreach – Adult Influencer award at WE12 and WE13, Mommy, Me, & SWE is sure to continue having a large-scale impact on the Urbana-Champaign community in inspiring girls to study engineering.
~Article submitted by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.