University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Girl Scout Day Inspires Young Women to Become Engineers

On Saturday, February 27, from 9:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., more than 30 Girl Scouts from Western and Central Massachusetts gathered at the Engineering Student Center in Marcus Hall on the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus to investigate engineering as a possible career move. The event is known as "Girl Scouts Exploration Day: Engaging, Educating, and Embracing the Creative Engineer.”

“Our main goal is to hook the girls on engineering by making sure they have a lot of fun learning about it,” says Shelly Perdomo, the director of the Diversity Programs Office in the College of Engineering.

Beginning at 9:30 a.m., Girl Scouts took in several lively, amusing, and interactive engineering projects, including: creating an electric battery out of a lemon; fabricating a Kicking Machine, a device that knocks a ping-pong ball into a cup lying on its side 12 inches away; and building an 18-inch-tall "High Rise" out of various materials.

The High Rise exercise, as an example, requires building a structure made out of a tray, cardboard, piece of wood, straws, string, masking tape, wooden skewer, and popsicle sticks. An electric fan and a tennis ball will be used to test the soundness of the design. Before designing the High Rise, brainstorming students were asked to think about the following questions. How can we use materials to make a tower that's at least 18 inches tall? How can we use flexible materials, such as paper and string, to make a tower that is strong enough to hold up a tennis ball? How can we keep our tower from tipping over? How will we design our tower to resist the push of the wind and the pull of gravity?

These enjoyable activities are designed to introduce the girls to chemical, mechanical, civil, environmental, and electrical engineering through various hands-on, engineer-it-yourself endeavors that give them a taste of these disciplines in a very entertaining way.

“The purpose is to inspire girls about engineering at an early age,” says Perdomo. “We want to create a pipeline of young women into engineering.”

In addition to the hands-on activities, there were also be talks giving the Girl Scouts an overview of engineering, the different disciplines in the field, and what engineers actually do. UMass Amherst engineering students led the activities. Girl Scouts Exploration Day is sponsored by the Society of Women Engineers and the Women in Engineering Program in the College of Engineering. (February 2010)