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Society of Women Engineers engages high schoolers

By Christopher Nicholson
On April 1, 2014

Engineering has long been a male-dominated field, but the Society of Women Engineers aims to change that. One of its initiatives toward this end was to hold an Engineering Extravaganza for local high school girls on Saturday.

“Much of our culture and society doesn’t see women in the same light as men,” said Bailey Swanson, treasurer of SWE. “Straight from childhood, they have the distinction of Legos and Barbies. We work to help girls see they can be a Lego kind of person as well.”

“It’s an intimidating environment for a female to step into, not just because of the male dominance but the load of science and math that is heavily involved with it,” said Olivia Leonhardt, vice president of corporate affairs for SWE.

Lori Caldwell, vice president of outreach for SWE, said Engineering Extravaganza is an annual, all-day activity.

“We do a couple of workshops, some hands-on activities and just explore things,” Caldwell said.

Swanson said the activities included a tour of USU’s underground steam tunnels and Central Energy Plant, a marshmallow structure-building challenge, a temperature-to-sound experiment, and a computer-aided design demonstration from John DeVitri of the Space Dynamics Lab.

Caldwell said SWE recruits Extravaganza attendees by advertising in local high schools and emailing teachers and counselors to have them target girls who are interested in science and math. The turnout has improved in the Extravaganza’s three years of operation.

“We have about 60 high school girls here,” she said. “Last year we only had 22 girls, and the year before we only had seven girls.”

Caldwell and Leonhardt said the proportion of women involved in engineering is still low, at about 15 or 16 percent nationally and even lower at USU. However, this number has been increasing over the years as well.

“I believe this is because of groups like SWE that have a strong outreach emphasis that are showing girls that they can do this,” Leonhardt said. “Extravaganza shows these girls that engineering is more than just straight math problems.”

“We’re still facing some issues, but as we move forward there’s less stigma, and we care less what it says,” Swanson said. “We’re in a generation where it’s OK to be different and actually cool.”

“One final point of Extravaganza is to show girls that they aren’t alone in engineering and that they should believe in their ability to do anything,” Leonhardt said. “We are excited to have them and want them to succeed.”

Caldwell said Extravaganza was sponsored by the College of Engineering, the Science, Technology, Engineering, Education and Mathematics (STE2M) Center and the department of civil and environmental engineering.
Twitter: @alien236

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