Go Eng Girls get hands-on lesson

Grade 7 and 8 girls made water filters while learning about the engineering world on Saturday.
Grade 7 and 8 girls made water filters while learning about the engineering world on Saturday.

From styrofoam prosthetic arms to masking-tape water filters, high school girls got the opportunity to learn about engineering marvels firsthand last Saturday during Go Eng Girl, a new province-wide initiative organized by Ontario Women in Engineering and held in the ILC.

“I never thought that I’d be able to make an arm,” said Leisha Klinger, a Grade 9 student from Frontenac Secondary School.

Caitlin Campbell, Sci ’07, was a volunteer at the event. She said that as an electrical engineering student she wants to encourage more girls to study in her department.

“I want to encourage girls to come into engineering, not to think it’s beyond their abilities,” she said.

The first part of Saturday’s event was a presentation introducing engineering to the students and their parents. One speaker was Carol Luttmer, who graduated with an engineering degree from the University of Guelph in 1999.

“I wasn’t sure where to go [after high school], but I took engineering and it was the best decision of my life,” she said.

She emphasized the importance of teamwork and communication skills in engineering, and how the skills she had learned getting her degree were applicable to a variety of other things, from a job in Guelph’s geography department to sailing training for the 2008 Olympics.

“I think it’s just important to communicate the message that there are lots of opportunities for students—they don’t need to be pigeonholed into a career,” Luttmer said.

After the presentation, hands-on activities began for the high school students.

As Klinger and other Grade 9 girls used a drill press and glue gun to construct the prosthetic arm, she said she thinks girls have many career options open to them.

“There’s so much to think about,” Klinger said. “I think [fewer girls are in engineering] ’cause there’s lots of other things that you can do now.

“I really want to be a surgeon, actually.”

Sarah Im-Jenkinn, a Sci ’07 student who is studying geological engineering, was one of the volunteers helping with the event. She said she had a lot of trouble deciding what field to go into.

“People don’t realize how many doors [engineering] opens up ... there’s so many opportunities in the industry right away.”

She said she thought the changes recently made to the requirements for Ontario students planning on studying engineering at university are a good idea.

“When you’re that young, you don’t need the pressure of trying to decide what you’re going to study,” she said. “With the old curriculum, it was really easy to get intimidated.

“I don’t think [a curriculum that specific] really inspires people to go into engineering.”

Paula Klink, an engineering professor and chair of Queen’s Go Eng Girl, emphasized that the recent change in curriculum requirements for Ontario students was not linked with the effort to encourage female enrolment. She cited a Queen’s study that found no discrepancy in marks between students who took the discrete math course—a requirement that can now be replaced by other courses—and those who didn’t.

“We really aren’t trying to lower standards,” she said. Most parents who attended said they were happy with the event.

“It gave us some other ideas about engineers, what they can do,” said Monique Cueré-Mauroux. “For me it was a real eye-opener. As a parent it brought me a new perspective [on engineering].”

Klink said the inaugural event was a success, and that the group hopes to run it in future years.

“I think it worked out well,” she said. “I think the girls enjoyed themselves, I think the parents’ information session was very informative. Parents play a big role … it’s important for them to be informed.”

Klink added that she thinks engineering is a fairly mysterious occupation.

“Engineering just isn’t so glamorous: The most popular engineer [in our culture] is probably Dilbert. If I was a 17-year-old girl trying to decide what I wanted to be, Dilbert would not enter into the equation.”

Klink also wondered whether gender parity in engineering programs would ever be reached.

“I don’t know if it should or not,” she said. “It’s important that people study what they want to study … some people get too worried about numbers.”

Other Queen’s initiatives to encourage girls to consider engineering include Science Quest—a summer camp for kids in grades four to eight, run out of the faculty of Applied Science—and Engenuity, a weekend of engineering activities open to girls in high school. Engenuity ran last May and will run again the first weekend of November.

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