Lehigh Society of Women Engineers demonstrate OPTIONS in science for high school girls
“Do well by doing good” was assistant professor John Fox’s message to over 40 local high schools girls who gathered in Maginnes 101 for an introduction to civil and environmental engineering.
“Water-related diseases are the second biggest killer of children worldwide,” Fox informed the group. “As an environmental engineer you have the opportunity to create technologies for people who don’t have safe drinking water. It’s a global challenge you can all help to address.”
Fox’s talk was part of Lehigh’s OPTIONS program, which stands for Offering Possibilities Through Investigating Opportunities in Engineering and Science. It the brainchild of Lehigh’s Chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), and in some ways shows an evolution of Lehigh’s highly-successful and longstanding annual CHOICES program that helps middle-school girls get excited about careers in science, technology, engineering, and math, the so-called STEM disciplines.
While CHOICES is all about making sure middle-school girls can see a general path into a STEM future, OPTIONS focuses more on preparing college-bound young women with insight into the possibilities offered by various engineering disciplines and a flavor for college life. SWE mentors and invited faculty describe the kind of work undertaken in academia and in industry, in addition to some hands-on demonstrations of STEM in action. Throughout the event, which covered a variety of disciplines, students learned about how various degrees or programs would help them tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges, including climate change, the global water crisis, healthcare and advanced manufacturing and infrastructure, among others.
Group activities ranging from building the tallest freestanding structure possible using spaghetti, string and marshmallow to demonstrations of observing blue water in vile, illustrated concepts of group work and purification processes.
As a kick off to the event, the girls attended a welcome meeting, led by SWE’s academic coordinator and mechanical engineering student Emily Sechrist ‘16. The itinerary for the rest of the day consisted of presentations from the department of material science, mechanical engineering and industrial systems engineering, along with civil and environmental engineering. The event concluded with a luncheon and ice cream social event in the UC designed to encourage the students to ask any questions in a more laid back setting.
For SWE mentor and environmental engineer Juliana Telles ’16, OPTIONS provides a valuable resource for young girls.
“It’s important that they see role models and opportunities out there that can make them comfortable saying ‘Yes, I can be an engineer and I can do this,’” says Telles. “Hopefully we can give them a good idea of what engineering is and inspire them.”
For Mackenzie B., a junior at Saucon Valley High School, her passion for math and science will hopefully lead to a degree in biomedical science or bioengineering and eventually a career in developing prosthetics. Although she said she enjoyed learning about each department, the interactive aspect of the material science demo was by far her favorite part of the day.
“It’s important to have a wider range of women in such a primarily male-dominated workforce,” says Mackenzie. “Women will also feel more comfortable getting advice from other women.”
Nicole Schor is a journalism student interning with the Dean’s Office of the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science.
February 25, 2016