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Engineering Girls @ The Beach Returns

Published: March 16, 2015

Engineering Girls @ the Beach returns to campus on Friday, March 20, with a daylong program of activities to attract area middle-school girls to careers in science and engineering. The event is co-organized by the student chapters of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and the College of Education (COE) Outreach and Recruitment Center.

“The goal for this event is to promote engineering, science and math to young girls,” said organizer Panadda Marayong, the SWE faculty advisor who is a member of the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department since 2007 and director of the Robotics and Interactive Systems Engineering Laboratory. “They come on campus to spend a day with faculty, students and staff from the College of Engineering.”

The day begins with registration at 8:30 a.m. in the university gym followed by a welcome from President of the Society of Women Engineers Lita Cahuana followed at 9:25 a.m. by a keynote address from Casco Contractors’ Cheryl Osborn. Workshops will begin at 10 a.m. followed by a lunch as well as a display of engineering student projects and activities in the Vivian Engineering Center’s quad. The day will conclude at 2 p.m.

Feedback has been positive. “Every year, we survey participant reaction and find that the girls are excited to be in the campus workshops,” said Marayong. “All the workshops are hands-on. The girls get to build something, to make something and see the results. This way, they learn to relate what can seem abstract to something they see in their daily lives.”

This year’s workshops will include:

“Mechanics in Daily Life,” hosted by Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering’s Yan Li, will offer students a little scientific knowledge about polymers to enable them to pierce a balloon with a wooden skewer without popping it;

“Foam Gliders,” led by the COE’s David Braunstein of Outreach and Recruitment, will help students build a Styrofoam glider with adjustable tabs. After the construction phase, the students will flight test their devices;

And “Autonomous Vehicles @ CASL,” led by MAE’s Praveen Shankar, will lead students on a tour of the “Collaborative Autonomous Systems Laboratory” where they will have the chance to learn about the different autonomous vehicles being designed and tested at CSULB such as the Planetary Rover being developed for the NASA RoboOps competition.

Marayong believes events like Engineering Girls @ the Beach go a long way towards correcting the professional imbalance in engineering between women and men. “Women represent about 19 percent of the engineering workforce and researchers have shown that the time to reach out to young women about careers in STEM should be as young as middle school,” she explained. “Many girls don’t know that they can make good careers in engineering. Then they see our women faculty members who are launched into their professional careers and know this is definitely something they can consider for their future.

“Plus, diversity in the work force is very important,” she continued. “When you design a product, you want input from all aspects of potential users. In terms of the world’s population, women are 50 percent. If you design a product, you want it to be usable by both halves of humanity. The idea is to get these young girls thinking early about science and engineering as well has having their schools involved. When teachers see the activities that go on in these workshops, they can bring back some of these ideas to their own classrooms.”

The first thing Marayong looks for in potential student scientists is curiosity. “When they are interested in something, they put their minds to it and often do well,” she said. “This event is here to spark interest. One of the criteria for their selection is a demonstrated interest and ability in math. Hopefully, they will stick with it and then perhaps make engineering their career choices.”

One of the most valuable aspects of the event is the way it sweeps aside preconceptions about engineering. “Many of these girls have the picture in their minds of someone wearing big glasses sitting behind a desk working on a computer in a small cubicle,” she said. “A big part of this program is to have girls coming to CSULB to see for themselves. They talk to our students and find active, friendly people. They see faculty members who work on exciting projects. These are not people with big glasses sitting behind desks working on computers in small cubicles.”

More than anything else, Marayong hopes the girls have fun. “They are so young that they might not yet be thinking about what they want to do in life but I hope they start thinking after this,” she said. “We want them to think that if they keep doing well in science and math, they can go into engineering. It is a fun day when they can learn new things and be inspired. And hopefully, our faculty and students can be a role model for these young girls.”