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Lehigh University logo
Lehigh University logo

Diversity of thought

Lehigh's CHOICES event opens eyes, and doors, to the possibilities of engineering

The annual Lehigh University program dedicated to bringing together girls at the top of their class from middle schools -- Charting Horizons and Opportunities in Careers in Engineering and Sciences, or CHOICES -- creates an exciting space for young minds to consider futures in science and engineering.

“Girls need to know early on that engineering is an opportunity: it’s diverse, it’s exciting, and it will never stop begging for exploration,” reflects Kianna Lauck ‘18, an Integrated Degree in Engineering, Arts, and Sciences (IDEAS) major and a member of Lehigh’s Society of Women Engineers. SWE is a group of young women who advocate for a female voice in a predominantly male career field; each year, the group organizes the daylong CHOICES event in the Spring.

Nearly 60 middle school girls from Allentown to Norristown descended upon the Wood Dining Room in Iacocca Hall on Friday, March 27, and worked together on various hands-on activities that involved troubleshooting, creativity, teamwork and critical thinking. Kianna and other SWE members served as project mentors -- and perhaps more importantly, as role models for the kids in attendance.

SWE mentors facilitated multiple activities -- moving a ping-pong ball across the room without touching it, launching a marble into a shoebox through a PVC pipe and foam tube “roller coaster” -- all designed to foster creativity and problem-solving, the foundation of all of engineering’s disciplines.

After each activity, girls would get together and reflect on their progress and think about the steps they could have taken to improve their final results. Patricia Bartosh, an eighth-grader at Whitehall-Coplay Middle School, commented on how much she learned about teamwork just by listening to other girls’ ideas.

CHOICES goes beyond just exposing girls to ‘textbook’ engineering -- it challenges them to think about actual issues they might encounter in their pursuits. “Often, it’s not our brains but rather our materials that limit us,” says Sonali Shah ‘15, majoring in chemical engineering.

Shah’s point was especially driven home during the final activity, the Egg Drop. In this project, the team are given a “budget” to spend on provided household supplies. They use the supplies in the design of contraptions intended, at least, to allow the eggs to withstand a 30-foot drop from the balcony of the Wood Dining Room to the parking lot below. With balloons, masking tape, newspaper, and plastic bottles at the ready, the SWE mentors worked to engage each of the kids on their teams.

"Sometimes engineers get the stereotype that they work alone," says Maggie Boyle '15, a senior finance major who helped make the day a great success for the students and teachers who visited. "But being an engineer is really about collaborating and having diversity of thought."

CHOICES is supported by the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science and industry partners Bosch Rexroth, Air Products and Boeing.

-Simona Galant '18 is a writer with the Dean’s Office of the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science.

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