Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day Draws 2,700 to Campus

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The scientist readies the rocket for blastoff.

“Three … two … one … LAUNCH!”

But something has gone wrong. There is a leak at the cardboard rocket’s nose cone, allowing air to escape and preventing the rocket from launching. Tape is applied, the rocket placed back on the PVC pipe.

A few feet away, the scientist—an 8-year-old named Alex clad in a hot pink cheetah-print top, black tights, and cowboy boots—waits for the countdown and jumps on an empty two-liter soda bottle duct-taped to the end of the pipe. A stream of air shoots toward the blastoff point.

This time it works. Problem solved. Rocket launched.

Alex, beaming, says the best thing about science is learning new things, and maybe one day she’ll be an engineer.

That moment is exactly what the organizers of Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day hope for. Hosted by UT’s Cockrell School of Engineering and the Women in Engineering Program, the annual event invites students in first through eighth grade to campus for an afternoon of building, experimenting, and exploring engineering. This Saturday, 2,700 girls traveled from around the state to the Forty Acres for the event. The program has reached more than 12,000 girls since starting in 2002.

Around the corner from the rocket launch, girls were measuring the decibel level of their screams and testing paper “bunny copters.” There were puppy robots, a wind tunnel, roses dipped in liquid nitrogen and girls using a Geiger-Müller counter to measure radiation levels in old watches.

It’s all an effort to promote science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education to girls at an early age. While girls and boys don’t differ significantly in their math and science abilities, male students are more than three times as likely to be interested in STEM majors and careers than female students, according to a report from the National Girls Collaborative Project. The same report notes that while women constitute 47 percent of the overall workforce, they make up only 27 percent of the science and engineering workforce.

UT sophomore Morgan Hodge hopes to raise those numbers. The biomedical engineering major was one of 800 volunteers at Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day (at the cosmetics presentation, explaining how engineers make lip gloss). Hodge wants to work in cellular and biomolecular engineering one day. She was drawn to the field because it allows her to combine her interest in math and science with creative problem-solving. Her father is an engineer, and she also grew up going to events like this one.

“They helped me relate to engineering on a level I could understand,” Hodge says. “We want these girls to realize the engineering around them in everyday life.”

Photos by Matt Valentine.

 

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