Feb. 24, 2014

High school girls get 'inside' information on engineering

Schulich hosts Women in Engineering Day

At the chemical engineering demonstration, students learned about finding efficient ways of turning raw materials into more valuable products that benefit society, such as using liquid nitrogen to make ice cream.

About 240 girls in Grades 10 and 11 toured through labs and classrooms Wednesday to learn about the variety of education and career opportunities in engineering, as part of the annual Women in Engineering Day at the Schulich School of Engineering.

"I always thought it looked so cool to do engineering," says Carmen Overton, a Grade 10 student from Henry Wise Wood High School in Calgary. "I wanted more information from the inside."

Overton and the other students got plenty of inside information during the course of the day. Third-year chemical engineering student Breanna Borys told them, "I love being an almost engineer," and gave advice about applying for scholarships and staying on top of your studies. A panel of female engineers working in industry discussed their careers and grad student Emily Marasco told the high school students that engineering demands "creative thinkers, like Leonardo Di Vinci."

The students got to test their creativity building a zipline in the design competition. They were split into groups of four, given a budget to buy different materials and told to build a zipline that could deliver a marble at least 1.3 metres.

"I wasn't looking forward to that part, to working in a group," says Overton. "But I was surprised it came together with less stress than I thought. Building it was the best part, it was fun." Overton's group placed first in the morning competition.

The high school students also cycled through demonstrations given by each of the six different departments in Schulich, including making ice cream with liquid nitrogen, riding a bike to light up a disco light and seeing how biomedical devices measure lung capacity.

Only about 14 per cent of working engineers are women and there are many efforts to try to increase the ranks. "A balanced profession is a better one," says Elena Di Martino, assistant professor, Centre for Bioengineering Research and Education and chair of the Gender and Diversity in Engineering Committee at the Schulich School of Engineering. WIE day, she told the students, is designed to help "inspire your choices."

Nearly 25 per cent of students at Schulich are female — one of the highest percentages of female undergraduates among all major engineering schools in Canada. Over the last couple of years, Schulich has seen more first-year female students join the faculty, due in part to WIE and many other faculty initiatives to engage women in engineering.