Nov 1, 2014 Design Your World – STEM Conference for Girls Event Recap

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Our Fall Design Your World event at UTD was simply AMAZING!  The Dallas Society of Women Engineers in partnership with University of Texas at Dallas SWE hosted 130 middle school and high school students and 60 adults at UTD’s Erik Jonsson School of Engineering.  They attended a variety of activities and speaker panels throughout the day.

Opening session: what a great group!

Opening session with Dr. Megan Pollock: what a great group!

Our opening Keynote Speaker was Dr. Megan Pollock, Director of Professional Development for the National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity. Design Your World has a logo inspired by a SWE webinar that bright colors are more likely to resonate with female audiences. Megan brought just that type of inspiration to the room. Her backdrop slides were filled with color, data to support engineering needs, big ideas, and a clear sense that girls would benefit from using their skills. Dallas SWE has embraced both traditional and non-traditional engineering careers and Megan highlighted that by connecting her electrical engineering work at Texas Instruments to her passion for bringing more people into engineering through a degree in engineering education.

One of the primary goals of the Design Your World Conference series is for students to meet and interact directly with women engineers, ask them questions, and learn what they do for a living.  This helps the girls translate the math and science they’re learning in school into what engineers really do for a living. Meeting a women engineer also helps them to picture themselves as future engineers! The great majority of activity facilitators and volunteers are women engineers, and students spent time with them during three of six available activity options:

  • Biomedical: Students started with a discussion on the various fields of biomedical engineering followed by a walk through of a biomedical lab.  They learned how different pieces of equipment are used for observing and testing of the human spine and implants. Participants then did their own testing by loading a bone with weight to learn about different bone fracture patterns.
  • Computer Science: Students learned about Computer Science and careers and had the opportunity to create their own 3D animated world using Alice Programming.
  • Electrical: Students learned what electrical engineers do and practiced their engineering skills by building a robot with a team. The girls then raced the robots and crowned a champion robot team!
  • Energy: After building their very own Salt Water Fuel Cell Car, students saw how the same ocean they swim in could be used to power their next vehicle!
  • Materials: Students learned the secret behind gold plating jewelry and walked away with their own gold plated trinket. They also saw a demonstration of the sensor technology in airport security scanners. Finally, they explored the design of tall structures by building their own Tall Towers
  • Mechanical: Teams of students built catapults from K’NEX parts, then tested how consistent their machine was by measuring the accuracy of where each projectile landed over multiple shots.

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Parents and educators attended two panel discussions.  In the morning panel, Susanna Biancheri, AT&T outlined her motivations to make a case for value for STEM and how AT&T sees an increase in STEM professionals as a critical need. Anita Pacheco, TriQuint outlined her path from San Antonio to MIT and the support systems she had experienced along the way. Ronny Edinger outlined the experience of his daughter who had sought a Math teacher’s career and through father-daughter communication saw value in an engineering career. The panel elicited very positive conversation. There were a substantial number of educators in the audience which enabled a bi-directional dialogue on what works best for parents in the classroom. Biancheri outlined the clear irrevocable fact that a degree in engineering enables a career in many areas. The group also discussed positive and constructive ways to encourage and to partner with children as they evaluate their own education and career options.  After lunch, parents and educators went on a tour of the UTD campus.

The afternoon session panel included three recently graduated engineers. Each panelist introduced herself, recounted her paths to engineering, explained her work duties, and highlighted the value of SWE to her professional development. Shelley Stracener (electrical engineer at Heads Up Technologies) outlined the critical need for fiscal consciousness in college selection, the value of scholarships, as well as her exceptional academic record with a National Merit Scholarship to Baylor University. Brittnee Keller (mechanical engineer at Quorum Business Solutions) outlined her recent transition from Prairie View A&M into civil engineering and her work with Quorum business solutions. Britney Caldwell (graduate of UNT and now an electrical engineer at Brandt Companies) outlined the confidence that builds as ones career progresses and her ability to be valuable to multiple facets of the company. Attendees asked great questions! Key take-aways included the fact that engineering degrees are versatile, often overlap each other in terms of required courses (especially in the introductory years), and that one does not necessarily have to be a straight-A student to get into a successful engineering career. The panel also covered the importance of getting girls into hands-on activities and internships prior to and while in college, since these types of experiences are what employers like to see in entry-level candidates for full time positions. The parent panels were held in a large auditorium room, but It became clear in both panels that the atmosphere was more that of a small family room as conversations became frank and open, inspiring and constructive.

Our closing ceremony included our classic “Engineer Fashion Show” where attendees get to see some women engineers in their work “uniforms!”  Kathryn Schuck talked about her “bunny suit” that she wears in Texas Instruments‘ clean room to protect the devices she works on from dust and debris contamination.  Britney Caldwell talked about the safety vest, hard hat, and boots she wears to protect her on construction sites for Brandt. Shelley Stracener explained how her conductive smock and heel straps protect the products she works on from ESD (electrostatic discharge) and how she uses her LED magnifying goggles to work on small electronic components at Heads Up Technologies.

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Engineering Fashion Show

You can find many more photos on our Facebook page! Please share your own photos from the event on our page as well!

Of course we could not have hosted this Design Your World – STEM Conference for Girls without our generous sponsors: Exxon Mobile, Captial One, and Pryor Packing, Inc. Thank you!

We also want to issue a special thank you to all our wonderful volunteers from Dallas SWE, UTD SWE, Collin College SWE, Raytheon, the Women of AT&T group, and Halliburton’s Women Sharing Excellence group!  This Design Your World event could not have been a success without you!

We received excellent feedback from attendee surveys at the end of the day.  Students liked the brainstorming, liked being able to create and build things, liked being able to control the world in Alice, loved learning while doing and all the cool hands on activities.  Several mentioned that they made new friends. Adults enjoyed meeting and engaging with so many women engineers,  learning about the broad scope of engineering, and all the speakers and panels were praised. We also take attendee suggestions and opportunities for improvement very seriously for future events, so thank you to everyone who filled out a survey for us!

Our next Design Your World – STEM Conference for Girls will be for 4th and 5th grade students and is tentatively scheduled for March 2015.  Stay tuned to this website, our Facebook page, and our Twitter for updates in the coming months!

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