CULLEN COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING

University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering

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SWE Outreach Project Connects Girls to Engineering

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Erin D. McKenzie
SWE member Juan Romero, a junior civil engineering major, helps area high school sophomores, Kelly Diaz, Edna Barrera and Rebeca Beltron construct a trebuchet during a recent outreach activity coordinated by the organization. Photo by Thomas Shea.
SWE member Juan Romero, a junior civil engineering major, helps area high school sophomores, Kelly Diaz, Edna Barrera and Rebeca Beltron construct a trebuchet during a recent outreach activity coordinated by the organization. Photo by Thomas Shea.

The University of Houston Student Chapter of the Society of Women Engineers recently worked to better connect a group of high school students with some of technologies that surround them by sharing the engineering and science concepts behind each one.

In a series of five workshops, about 70 girls from six schools in the Greater Houston area not only got a chance to see some everyday things in a new light, but also interacted, many for the first time, with engineering students and professionals.

“We saw this as a great opportunity to introduce students, who may not be sure what they want to do, to the possibilities in science and engineering,” said Hina Rehman, the president of SWE and a senior biomedical engineering major at UH. “We want to get these kids interested while they are still young.”

The workshops, just like the SWE organization, encouraged the girls to consider professions in engineering—a field typically dominated by men. It was one of several service activities put on by the UH chapter throughout the year. It brought female engineers from Schlumberger and Houston's professional chapter of the Society of Women Engineers to campus to help teach some of the workshops.

At the outreach event, Zaira Andrade couldn’t help but show her enthusiasm as she worked on an exercise tasking her to take apart pieces of a computer and put them back together—all while learning each parts purpose. The sophomore at Westfield High School has been planning to pursue a career in aerospace engineering for as long as she can remember. With three cousins working at NASA, she has heard many exciting stories, but the experience with SWE offered her first interactions with female engineers.

“It has been pretty cool to meet actual women that are in engineering,” said Andrade. “My cousins are all males, so I’ve never really seen a woman doing engineering.”

Throughout the day, the high school girls from as close as Eastwood Academy in Houston to as far away as Carl Wunsche Sr. High School in Spring, Texas participated in discussions about the technology used to remove oil and gas from the Earth and the girls made Cemcrete—a new technology taking the place of traditional cement in some oil wells. Mentors shared stories of their worldly travel and regular job duties as engineers.

In between, the girls made flowers out of coffee filters in the paper chromatography workshop. Here they analyzed what happened to marker pigment on the filter by separating the chemicals from which the pigment is made. And participants built a counterweight trebuchet—a type of catapult they constructed from popsicle sticks, straws, yarn, paperclips and marbles—to see whose design launched a jelly bean the farthest.

For many, such as Kelly Diaz, the workshops reinforced their passion to pursue engineering as a career.

“I already knew I wanted to go into engineering because I like building stuff and working with my hands,” said the sophomore from Wunsche as she paused from helping her team brace the sides of their trebuchet. “This is cool because I get to see others that actually do engineering. It kind of helped me begin narrowing down what type of engineer I want to be.”

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