Exposing girls to careers in science, technology, engineering, and math is a key mission of IEEE Women in Engineering. It’s also the mission of a Microsoft outreach effort called DigiGirlz. The two groups teamed up for the first time last August at the DigiGirlz Camp, in Charlotte, N.C., where about 100 female high school students learned about the engineering field and got the chance to experience what it’s like to develop a bit of technology. An IEEE.tv film crew taped volunteers from IEEE WIE and DigiGirlz as they gave presentations and conducted hands-on activities for the girls at the camp. That video recently was posted to IEEE.tv.
During the four-day-long annual event, students listen to talks by female engineers about their careers, work on an activity, tour local tech companies, check out demonstrations of electronics, and network.
On the opening day last year, IEEE Fellow Karen Panetta, 2009 chair of the WIE Committee, encouraged the participants to try their hand at whatever technology interested them, because “all interdisciplinary talents can be used in engineering,” she said. “It’s not just about the math and the science. While those are the tools we use, it’s your imagination that makes you a valuable engineer.”
The IEEE.tv video shows the girls participating in Ship the Chip, an activity based on a lesson plan from TryEngineering.org, an IEEE Web site aimed at educating students. The girls designed a package to safely ship a single potato chip through the mail, protecting it from breaking as it went through a typical shipping process. The 30-minute exercise explored how engineers go about designing a shipping package as well as the challenges they face to ensure the product won’t be damaged.
Students worked in teams, deciding on the packaging to use, such as cardboard, cotton balls, toothpicks, and foil; coming up with a design and building it; and testing and evaluating it. The girls then put the finished designs to the test by kicking, dropping, and throwing the packages, which were then opened to see how well the chips held up.
Throughout the four days, Panetta stressed the importance of rejecting common stereotypes of engineers. “A lot of times you’ll hear people say, ‘You need to be really good at math and science to be an engineer,’” she said. “Guess what? You don’t. You just have to have determination and want to create new things that help solve problems.”