To expose more girls to the male-dominated field of engineering, a UT student organization – Women in Engineering Program (WEP) – is hosting its 13th annual Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day on Saturday. The event will offer first through eighth graders the opportunity to meet engineers, build structures and learn more about the field.
Girl Day is a national event that serves as the finale of “Engineers Week,” a weeklong attempt to spread awareness and celebrate the field. The first year UT hosted the event, 92 students were in attendance. This year, WEP expects more than 2,000 attendees. Although most participants come from Central Texas, girls from all over the state are invited.
More than 800 students volunteer along with local companies to guide and help the girls throughout the day. Jordan Keller graduated from UT with a degree in chemical engineering in 2013 and is now returning to volunteer at the event.
“This will be my first year volunteering as a graduate, and I am beyond excited that my company is coming to volunteer,” Keller said. “Girl Day is my favorite day of the year. I think it’s great for these young girls to see so many women engineers and realize that they could grow up to be engineers, too.”
The afternoon will be spent with a variety of engineering-themed activities coupled with demos and interactive displays. Girls will be split based on their grade level for hands-on creativity. Projects range from building domes with gumdrops to building roller coasters, offering girls of all ages an introduction to the possibilities engineering presents.
Mechanical engineering sophomore Allison Rich participated in Girl Day as a high school student. As a Girl Scout, she hosted a robotics booth at the event and let the girls drive her 5-foot robot creations. Now, as a UT student, she gets to be on the other side of Girl Day and engage with girls who could be in her shoes in just a few years.
“Our biggest goal is to have girls realize that engineering is everywhere, that it is perhaps a possibility for them and that math and science and engineering is fun,” WEP director Tricia Berry said. “We’re not necessarily trying to make all of them be engineers, but just to have heard that word engineer and to have met a lot of female engineers.”
Right now, women make up less than one-fourth of the population in the Cockrell School of Engineering, giving them the most uneven ratio at UT. This year, the school has more female students than ever before, a trend that Berry believes will continue.
Berry thinks the new push for an emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, is spurring this trend. From presidential support to programs like Girl Day, young women are being encouraged to get involved in fields that are typically male-dominated.
“Engineering is not this foreign entity. You don’t have to be this brilliant science and math person,” Berry said. “You need to be a problem solver, you need to like to explore, you need to troubleshoot and figure things out and anybody can really do that.”