An Invitation to Explore, Create and Transform

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If you know a teen interested in design, creative problem-solving, science and math, or just a fun way to spend her Saturday, read on. The Society of Women Engineers (SWE) at Northwestern University, in collaboration with the McCormick School of Engineering, is sponsoring their annual Career Day for Girls on Saturday February 27th, open to girls in grades 6-12. We talked to SWE president Lauren Keeley and McCormick assistant dean for student affairs Ellen Worsdall to get the details.

First, tell me about the event itself. Would you walk me through the day’s activities?
We begin with a keynote address from a female engineer who shares her experiences in the field. This year’s speaker is Krystle Nagle, an engineer at BP.

Then, we dive right in with a mini design competition, our first hands-on activity of the day. Girls are divided into small groups and work together to solve a problem based on a real-life scenario. For example, last year we focused on sustainability and challenged the girls to develop self-propelled vehicles capable of traveling down a six-foot track. They came up with many creative ways to get the cars moving using only very simple supplies, like rubber bands and even balloons!

Teens enjoy one of the hands-on challenges (Photo courtesy of the Society of Women Engineers at Northwestern)Teens enjoy one of the hands-on challenges (Photo courtesy of the Society of Women Engineers at Northwestern)Next, attendees have the opportunity to tour three labs of their choice with McCormick undergraduate students as their guides, allowing the girls to learn more about not just the nuts and bolts of engineering, but real student experiences as well. While in the labs, girls participate in additional activities and demonstrations. Past tours have included an up-close look at the future of prosthetic technology, computer modeling and simulations of real-world problems like transportation and the spread of disease, and even a physics “magic” show.

After lunch, we split the girls by age into two tracks of programming. Grades 9-12 may attend a series of panels that discuss a variety of careers in engineering. Meanwhile, grades 6-8 participate in further group activities. In past years, some of the challenges have included determining how to remove olive oil from an oil/water mixture in a pan, and building a stand-alone structure, in which a team member would be able to sit, using only newspaper.

What would you like the girls to learn by the time they leave the event?
Of course, we want the girls to have a better understanding of what it means to be an engineer and what opportunities are out there for them. We include so many hands-on activities to emphasize that engineering is really a hands-on field. Also, we incorporate the same constraints that professional engineers face—time, money and materials—into the challenges, so participants understand the full scope of solving real problems. When students win a challenge, we liken it to winning a contract, like an engineer would receive from a company to design a product or service.

We also want them leave knowing how cool and fun engineering is. The girls get to interact quite a bit with our undergraduate students, people not so far from their ages, who are already on their way to becoming engineers and really enjoy what they do. They also get to spend time with more than 200 peers who also think science and math are cool.

Sounds like fun! Who can participate?
The event is open to all girls in grades 6-12. Parents and guardians are welcome to join their daughters for the day, and even participate in select activities. Parents are always on different teams than the girls, adding an extra level of friendly competition to the day. Their participation can also create extra benefit for the girls, because it allows the conversation about a future in engineering to continue at home.

All participants, parents and children, need to pre-register. Registration is open now through Friday February 12th (or until the event is full). There is a $5 fee for the event, which covers lunch. For more information, including how to register, please visit the event website here, call 847-491-5173, or email e-worsdall@northwestern.edu.


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