Before a group of Houston-area high school students spent the day at UH’s Cullen College of Engineering, only 67 percent of them said they were interested in becoming an engineer. After spending several hours with the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) at their “Launch into Engineering” event, that number spiked to 85 percent.
Given the extremely low numbers of STEM-interested students in today’s education system, SWE Outreach Chair Gabriela Bernardes couldn’t be happier. “Launch into Engineering” is an annual event hosted by SWE which invites local high school students to tour the Cullen College of Engineering and learn about different engineering disciplines through hands-on experiments and problem solving. For example, this year’s students learned about chemical engineering by making their own “slime” with borax, glue and food coloring. They also designed and created structures out of dry spaghetti and marshmallows, and used drinking straws and tape to create a protective barrier that would prevent an egg from cracking after being dropped from a third-story balcony.
According to a survey taken after the event, Bernardes said that 75 percent of participants felt that the program helped to improve their ability to look at problem-solving options from multiple angles. Additionally, 74 percent felt that their skills in the design process were improved. Ninety-nine percent of participants said they would recommend the event to a friend.
“I noticed that when the [keynote] speaker opened the floor for questions, there were a lot of very good questions being asked. So they were very interested,” Bernardes said. Holding the Launch into Engineering event, Bernardes said, is pivotal to sparking an interest in engineering for high school students. “A lot of us only got into Engineering because we experienced events like this. This is our way of giving back.”