The Society for Women Engineers at the University hosted middle school girls from around Virginia on Grounds Sunday as a part of their outreach program geared towards promoting a passion for science.
Brianna Biesecker, a third-year Engineering student and SWE co-chair of Elementary and Middle School Outreach, said Middle School Visitation Day is meant to get the girls excited about science and engineering with hands-on activities.
“They learn about science in school, but we like to show them actual engineering applications,” Biesecker said.
The program included hands-on design activities, as well as tours of the engineering labs by graduate students to teach the middle schoolers about engineering. The hands-on design activities included an exercise where the students could construct miniature robots, or “brushbots,” from toothbrush heads and motors.
Caroline Shermoen, third-year Engineering student and SWE co-chair for Elementary and Middle School Outreach, said the activity was intended to demonstrate concepts such as electricity and magnetism.
Shermoen said students would also build small boats to explore engineering concepts such as buoyancy and volume.
Madeline Malone, a sixth-grader at Jack Jouett Middle School, said she enjoyed the program.
“I really like the hands on activities — we created small robots out of the heads of toothbrushes, that was quite enjoyable,” Malone said. “I want to be a chemist, but I like engineering because it’s more building things and I like to create things.”
The program included three tours of the engineering labs, with featured demonstrations and experiments by graduate students.
Megan Grzyb, a fourth-year Engineering student and SWE president, volunteered at the event as a group leader, and said she was pleased by students’ reactions to the interactive nature of the labs and activities.
“I think that kind of interactive stuff gets them excited and makes engineering more real for them and connect with the research topic we are talking about,” Grzyb said. “I think all the girls were interested and responded well, and it was fun to talk to them about what excited them.”
The students were selected to participate in this program based off an application sent out to schools in the local area and other parts of the state.
Biesecker said this program is important to introduce the engineering more concretely to students.
“What I’ve noticed from being involved in SWE is that so many high schools, and even middle schools, have so many engineering programs, but most of these are optional, so if you can get younger girls interested and to sign up or join the club, [that’s important] because otherwise they may not know they’re interested in engineering,” Biesecker said.
Shermoen agreed and said many girls don’t explore engineering unless they understand more specifically what it involves.
“We’ve had girls come through the programs who say, ‘We didn’t really know what engineering was until we came to your SWE event, and now I want to do it,’” Shermoen said.
Grzyb said she enjoyed sharing science and engineering with the students, as someone in the past introduced her to the field.
“We [in SWE] can think back to our own experiences growing up when we had older people introduce us to that, and it feels meaningful to give back, and I think it's meaningful on their part, getting a special day to learn about this and knowing that we want to put on this type of event for them,” Grzyb said.