Girls-Only Engineering Class Gives Back To Somali Women

By Beatrice Dupuy
Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) In years past, teacher Andrew Kastenberg would have, at most, two girls in his engineering class. But this year he was able to round up 21 girls for an all female engineering course. The students are using their new found skills to touch the lives of newly arrived refugee families in the area.

Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

An empty wooden crib stands at the back of a St. Anthony Village High School classroom — though not for long. Students in the school’s first women in engineering class have finished assembling the crib, and soon a refugee mother will have a place for her baby boy to sleep.

The class of 21 girls has spent the semester building furniture, from cribs and tables to board games, for Isuroon, a local nonprofit for Somali women.

“We can give back to them and make them feel more welcome here,” Sophia White, a 16-year-old sophomore, said Monday.

It’s only fitting. Andrew Kastenberg’s class has welcomed these girls into an otherwise male-dominated field.

It’s the first year Kastenberg has had enough students to offer the girls-only class after three years of trying. This time, Kastenberg said, he went around the school cafeteria during lunches to hand out fliers to promote the class.

Before the all-girls class, Kastenberg would have at most two girls on his class roster.

From 10:20 a.m. to 11:10 a.m., the girls spend their class time sketching, designing prototypes with a 3-D printer and crafting furniture. On Monday, the class was packed with students sanding their finished woodworking projects.

For many of the girls, it is their first time working with tools. Kastenberg said they are much more attentive than the students in his regular classes.

“They finish things,” he said. “The guys get things 75 percent done.”

In the past, his regular classes would want to build hovercrafts or an automated drawbridge. Furniture was a first for Kastenberg’s class, but it’s what the girls decided, he said. He normally doesn’t have space for furniture.

The class is the school’s only all-girls course. Kastenberg plans to offer it again next year.

“It’s fantastic,” Principal Wayne Terry said. “For years, there has been a big push to get more women into engineering.”

The girls in Kastenberg’s engineering class prefer the no-boys-allowed option. Mihret Jeleta, a 16-year-old junior, and her classmate, Ananda White, an 18-year-old senior, worked on adjusting the measurements of their table on Monday. Jeleta said she would not have been interested if the class had not been girls only.

“I feel empowered. You can see that I built this,” she said, pointing at the table she was working on.

At the start of each year, Kastenberg spends the first week of class explaining to his students how to operate the woodworking tools safely. With school winding down for winter break, the girls were revving up their power tools to finish their work. On Monday, the sounds of routers, nail guns and saws filled the classroom, making conversation difficult. But the girls were too focused to take a breather from their projects.

While some of the girls got off to a rugged start, eventually they smoothed out the rough patches. Lily Zieg, a 15-year-old freshman, along with six of her classmates, sanded the crib and applied protective finishing Monday.

As with most team projects, the girls had some disagreements, such as how to assemble the crib slats. Although they left with some splinters, they came together to write their names with a Sharpie on the base of the crib bed.

“It was difficult,” Zieg said. “A lot of yelling, but we got through it. It was worth all of it.”

Kastenberg is coordinating with Isuroon to see if the girls can meet the family that will benefit from all their hard work.

The founder of the nonprofit, Fartun Weli, said furniture is often the hardest thing to find for newly arrived refugee families.

“The new groups that are coming usually have nothing when they move to these apartments,” she said. “The crib will be really perfect for this new mom.”

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