Junior high school girls participate at engineering overnight program

Society of Women Engineers student section hosts 50 girls to learn about being engineering students and future professionals

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Michelle Cometa

One of the many lab activities the teens participated in was on the assembly line in RIT Toyota Production lab. The teens were able to learn about process re-design concepts and the role engineers play in facilitating productivity in the workplace.

What does it take to manage 50 energetic, teenage girls for an overnight?

Sarah Duman found out. She and members of RIT’s section of the Society of Women Engineers hosted the girls for the group’s annual SWE Overnight program Feb. 6 and 7 in RIT’s Kate Gleason College of Engineering.

Over two days, the girls toured RIT and explored engineering fields through hands-on workshops in chemical, biomedical, mechanical, industrial and electrical engineering labs. They participated in packaging science and civil engineering technology projects. They heard about college life from current female engineering students and met several area engineering professional women talk about their careers.

Junior year is when many start looking into colleges in earnest, visiting campuses with family, and ensuring that classes in senior year will prepare them for their first year in college. The overnight program is designed for the junior girls, and if the teens had any reservations about careers as engineers, scientists, researchers or technologists, the overnight event and the activities RIT-SWE put together for the girls would be a way to help them decide.

“Many of the girls are still weighing what they want to do in college,” Duman said. “Hopefully the program shows them that engineering can be fun, and it is a career path that is a helping discipline. That resonates for women.”

Some of the young women are hesitant to use different tools and laboratory equipment, but having the exposure to this equipment and the chance to use it with the help of the student-engineers is also an important part of the event, said Marca Lam, mechanical engineering senior lecturer and faculty adviser for RIT-SWE. “They have the chance to build things themselves. They learn from their mistakes, and they feed off each other’s ideas. It’s just one way they start to see themselves as engineers.”

Shealyn Doody, a junior from Shortsville, N.Y. agreed. “Engineering can be for anyone.”

Duman has been involved with RIT-SWE since she entered RIT five years ago, acting as president last year, and currently serving as the overnight program coordinator. Members of the section designed many of the lab activities, coordinated the different panels for the girls and their parents, and worked closely with more than 60 faculty and staff across RIT to run the overnight program, now in its 14th year.

For all the fun and work taking place during the overnight, the teens can also see how the RIT student-engineers and professionals address stereotypes of women in STEM careers.

“Women can be successful in any STEM career they choose,” said Duman, who will graduate this May with a bachelor’s degree in industrial and systems engineering, as well as a master’s in engineering management. The Buffalo resident will begin work at GE Transportation in Erie, Pa., shortly after graduation.