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Society for Women Engineers Travels to Brazil for 'One Day in Engineering'

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Melanie Ziems
Fontaine Wilson assists a student on a project explaining the petroleum engineering discipline. (photo by Felipe Ponte)
Fontaine Wilson assists a student on a project explaining the petroleum engineering discipline. (photo by Felipe Ponte)

The Society for Women Engineers (SWE) once again travelled to Teresopolis, Brazil this summer for “One Day in Engineering” (“Um Dia na Engenharia”), an outreach event organized by the student group to introduce local high school students to the engineering discipline.

This year, SWE members Natalia Caid, Fontaine Wilson and Ali Siddique traveled to the small town, which is located near Rio de Janeiro. Gabriela Bernardes, who spearheaded last year’s trip, did not attend the event in person but helped with the planning. In Teresopolis, they were joined by local volunteers who helped coordinate the event and translate between Portuguese and English.

Over the two-day event, 125 students from 10 area schools learned about petroleum, electrical, mechanical and civil engineering through fun workshops designed to make the discipline more approachable to younger minds. For petroleum engineering, they used straws to perform “logging” exercises on different colored sands meant to represent hydrocarbons in the earth. They played circuit bingo as a way to learn electrical engineering, and built straw towers as an introduction to civil engineering. For mechanical engineering, the students were told to transport a ping pong ball from one location to another using nothing but random knick-knacks.

Both Bernardes and Caid are originally from Brazil, and their families helped out with the event as well, including providing lodging for the SWE members.
“This kind of event is not common in Brazil, they don’t really do outreach events for engineering… especially in the public schools, it’s even more rare,” Bernardes explained. Attendance increased from last year’s even to this year’s, and she said volunteer interest from local Brazilians also increased since last summer.

“I think the event was a great experience for us and the students. They were very engaged and very excited about all the activities,” said Caid. “They definitely learned a lot about engineering in a very, very fun way. It was a great learning experience for everyone.”

Siddique said he spends a lot of time with high-school aged students as a Sunday School teacher, but “I’ve never seen students that excited, that respectful. It was really nice. They’re really friendly people, and you can tell they paid attention, even though engineering can be abstract and complex.” The SWE volunteers surveyed the students after the event, and while 65 percent said they were interested in engineering before the day’s activities, that number increased to 84 percent after the event.

Wilson said events like this and other SWE annual outreach efforts are important because they promote a greater diversity in the field of engineering. “For a long time it was just men [in engineering],” she said. “We’re able to reach people who might not have thought of engineering as a career and spark that interest.”

Check out the pictures from One Day in Engineering here.