By Angel Coker The Tuscaloosa News, Ala.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) The "Wow! That's Engineering!" event hosted by the University of Alabama chapter of Society of Women Engineers is designed to teach middle-school students different engineering disciplines through activities with a entertaining theme. This year's theme was space exploration, "Across the Galax-SWE."
The Tuscaloosa News, Ala.
Monalisa Ruffin's small fingers assembled snap connectors on a circuit board to create a closed-loop circuit in hopes that once she finished the activity, she could make a siren sound off.
The 11-year-old sixth-grader at Brookwood Middle School participated in five engineering activities on Saturday at the "Wow! That's Engineering!" event hosted by the University of Alabama chapter of Society of Women Engineers, known as SWE.
The annual event is designed to teach middle-school students different engineering disciplines through activities with a entertaining theme. This year's theme was space exploration, "Across the Galax-SWE."
"We try to take different types of engineering and a fun theme and make activities that are easily digestible by middle-school students ... that spark interest in STEM-related fields," said Amber Gibson, SWE vice president of outreach. "The purpose of this event is to reach students and to spark interest and to cultivate that interest (in engineering)."
A little more than 30 middle-school students from Tuscaloosa city and county schools participated in the activities at UA on Saturday.
The activities kicked off with a civil engineering activity that simulated a rocket taking off. Students built a structure using coffee stirrers and clay and then put it to the test. Their structures were placed on a shake table to see if they could withstand seismic waves.
Students also did a mechanical engineering activity in which they built a candy rover to simulate being on another planet. The chemical engineering activity included creating a comet using dry ice to simulate the types of debris encountered in space.
Students also participated in an electrical engineering circuit board activity that simulated what it would be like if their equipment were to malfunction while in space and they had to fix it.
They also got to design bottle rockets and use baking soda and vinegar as part of the aerospace engineering activity.
Event co-coordinator Chloe McMahon said these activities show kids what engineering is, that it is an interesting field of study, and that it's not all about being good at math; it takes creative thinking and art skills, too.
She said it also expands their career choices.
"You just want to show them that engineering is fun, and engineers do really cool things," McMahon said. "When I was in elementary school, people would (say) you could grow up to be a doctor or a lawyer or a nurse, but you never really heard about engineers."
Monalisa said she wants to be a chemical engineer because "you get to do experiments that might change the world. She said the event on Saturday "inspired me to work harder and get a degree" in engineering.
The annual event targets girls in middle school in an effort to get them interested in a career field they may not have known was possible, but boys are welcome, too.
Parents were also involved in the event.
While the kids got to take part in activities, the parents listened to speakers from the university and the engineering industry as they spoke about what engineering is, how to foster their child's interest in engineering, how to help them prepare to study engineering in college, and about the challenges women face in the field.
But the main goal of the event was to boost confidence, Gibson said.
"A big part of this is telling people to believe in themselves," she said.