For middle school girls, this is what an engineer looks like

Girls in engineering lab
Middle school girls participate in Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day.

What does an engineer look like?

The aim of this year’s Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day was to encourage middle school girls that anyone can be an engineer – including women. The April 7 event was hosted by the CSU collegiate section of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) at the Suzanne and Walter Scott, Jr. Bioengineering Building, where 122 middle school girls from across Colorado participated in different activities that familiarized them with engineering concepts.

Role modeling

Girls were put into groups of eight and assigned to a “role model,” an engineering student and member of SWE, providing them with a more personalized experience. Students had the opportunity to interact with the other girls in their group, as well as learn from their role model.

“At the beginning of the day the girls were really shy, but it was nice to see them become really interactive by the end of the day,” said Natalie Rios, a sophomore in biomedical and chemical and biological engineering and CSU SWE outreach director.

How to be an engineer

The girls participated in a variety of activities, including circuit soldering and coding, and learned how to problem-solve their way through each activity rotation. Volunteers from engineering student organizations and companies like New Belgium and Ciena were on hand to help guide the students through each activity.

Engineering activity
Girls participate in circuit activity in the Scott Bioengineering Building.

“We wanted the girls to know that sometimes experiments don’t go right, but that’s OK – you can problem-solve,” said Annie Elefante, a junior in biomedical and mechanical engineering and SWE president.

While their children learned how to solder and code, the girls’ parents attended informational sessions. The presenters, including women engineers from industry, guided parents through the process of supporting girls who express interest in pursuing engineering education. They also discussed how to enable girls to feel more comfortable pursuing engineering, rather than leveraging teaching methods that push them away from engineering fields.

“You don’t have to teach girls to be perfect, you just have to teach them to be brave enough to try,” said Elefante.

Breaking down walls

CSU SWE plans to host the event again next year to continue inspiring middle school girls to embrace their interest in science and technology. They’ve even noticed that for some of the girls, the activities being offered throughout the day aren’t challenging enough, so they want to improve the experience so attendees feel their intellect is properly acknowledged. Through age-appropriate, hands-on activities, Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day is one step closer to closing the gender gap in engineering.

“This is probably one of the big frontiers where women can really make an impact,” said Rios. “It hasn’t happened yet, but we’re working to change that.”