UT students educate young women at Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day

Lauren Florence

While middle school girls built “butterfly bots” with toothbrush heads and miniature motors, fourth- and fifth-grade students created balloon-powered toy cars and raced their creations at Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day on Saturday. 

UT engineering students worked with local elementary and middle school girls to create science-oriented projects and to introduce young women to the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Tricia Berry, director of the Women in Engineering Program, said over 2,000 students in first through eighth grade were invited to campus to participate in the event.

“[Our goal is] to excite girls about science, technology, engineering and math to give them a day to not only explore through hands-on activities but to also see a whole bunch of role models who they can visit with and learn from and hopefully aspire to be like,” Berry said.

Katie, 11, Sonia, 13 and Zoe, 9 learn about robotics in the CPE Building on Saturday afternoon. Charlotte Carpenter | Daily Texan Staff

According to Berry, about 600 UT students volunteered for the event, facilitating over 100 distinct activities. For example, aerospace engineering students helped fourth- and fifth-graders create balloon-powered cars. Berry said the goal of the day was to keep young women interested in STEM fields.

“We know that especially in the elementary and middle school ages, that that’s when girls tend to get turned off from math and science, and so anything we can do to get them excited is a positive thing,” Berry said. 

Electrical engineering sophomore Chamali Raigama said she wishes she had been more exposed to engineering concepts when she was younger. Raigama said she didn’t know what engineers did until she came to college. 

“I feel that girls have a lot to offer when it comes to engineering,” Raigama said. “Maybe they’re much more creative, and maybe they have different ideas and different ways to come about designing things that guys don’t think about.”

A group of girls learn about the chemical engineering behind cosmetics as they make their own lip balms in the RLM building on Saturday afternoon. Charlotte Carpenter | Daily Texan Staff

IBM software engineer Alyson Cabral said it’s important to introduce girls to engineering concepts in a nonintimidating way to make engineering seem more normal to girls. According to Cabral, there is a disparity of women in
technological fields.

“We’re 50 percent of the population, so we shouldn’t be considered diverse, but that’s really the state that tech is in right now, like 28 percent of women in tech, which is not enough,” Cabral said. “There’s the percentage of women in our company, but then there’s also the percentage of the executive team that are women, and those generally don’t match.… just overall in engineering, we’re not there.”

Mary Cole, software engineer at Halliburton-owned Landmark Graphics, said engineering requires students to be creative when approaching a problem in actuality.

“This most important thing [Girls Day] gives young women is the freedom to know that they can think in an engineering manner, and they don’t have to be afraid of making mistakes in front of people,” Cole said. “It’s okay to try something, fail fast, improve it and try again. It’s just problem-solving thinking. It’s not a boy thing or a girl thing — just thinking about a problem — and no one has a monopoly on that.”

Sophia, 9, builds a tower in the lobby of RLM on Saturday afternoon. Charlotte Carpenter | Daily Texan Staff