Eureka Moments: Engineering Event Draws Middler-Schoolers to Campus

Two of the 150 participants in this year's Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day at Smith. Photo by Isabella Casini '17

This year’s Introduce a Girl to Engineering event brought 150 middle-school girls to Ford Hall for a day of STEM-themed activities.

The March 4 event, organized by the Smith College Society of Women Engineers, drew the largest group of participants since the program began more than a decade ago in celebration of National Engineers Week.

Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day aims to empower more girls by providing opportunities to explore STEM in a supportive environment. This year’s participants tried their hands at computer science, electrical engineering and design engineering—among other STEM disciplines—through hands-on exercises such as website building, Rube Goldberg machines and creating hydroponic greenhouses from recycled bottles.

Shuying Zhen ’19, an engineering and Spanish major who has been involved with planning the annual event for the past two years, says the program is important for the girls it welcomes.

“Doing an engineering project for three hours usually is not an option offered at their schools,” Zhen says. “Here, they can learn more about STEM from Smithie role models who are women in science, see how STEM is a possible path for them and understand that engineering is not as scary as society says, but can be fun and fulfilling.”

Zhen adds that coordinating the event and doing community outreach are also valuable experiences for Smith students.

“It’s been nice to see that there are so many students on campus who are excited about teaching girls about engineering,” she says, noting that 42 Smithies were involved in this year’s Introduce a Girl to Engineering program.

At the March 4 event, girls gathered at the start of each session in one of the Ford Hall classrooms, where volunteers set up warm-up activities.

Mariama Jaiteh ’20 helps middle- school girls during a hands-on session at Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day.

As she watched a Smith volunteer explain how to create a record player using a paper cone, sewing needle and tape, Elsa, an 8th-grader from Amherst Regional Middle School, said she was looking forward to learning something new.

“I always really liked engineering, but they don’t offer it at my school, so I’m excited to learn more,” said Elsa, who was participating for the second time in Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day. “I did coding last year, and we got to learn Scratch. It is one of my favorite programs now, and I use it all the time.”

Sue Froehlich, a lab supervisor in Smith’s Picker Engineering Program, has been involved in the daylong event for girls since she came to Smith in 2007. She says it’s rewarding to see the girls build confidence and overcome challenges.

“When there is a Eureka moment—when they have had to struggle for a bit but then can finally make something work—the thrill is really sweet,” Froehlich says.

Mariama Jaiteh ’20, a first-year Smithie who helped plan this year’s event, says she was glad to be able to provide girls with learning experiences she did not have at their age.

“I have appreciated being able to get involved with STEM outreach because in middle school, I was not a part of STEM or engineering,” Jaiteh says. “Planning the event and thinking back to what I would have wanted when I was their age has been really valuable to me.”

In addition to Jaiteh, event co-chairs and core planning members were Jenny Banh ’18, Beatrix Dalton ’19, Selina Husain ’19, Angelica Luna ’19, Megan McGahren ’18, Maia Tooley ’19 and Flora Weil ’17.

Hunter King, an AmeriCorps VISTA service member with Smith’s Jandon Center for Community Engagement, helped facilitate outreach to Lt. Elmer J. McMahon School in Holyoke, which participated in Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day for the first time.