Hands-on Engineering Experience for High School Girls at SWE Event

Nearly 200 girls from a half-dozen local high schools launched rockets, made batteries from lemons, concocted goo from cornstarch, and learned how to create DC motors from paperclips during the 10th annual Women Engineers @ the Beach Friday.

Sponsored by the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), the event was intended to spark girls’ interest in engineering with presentations and eight workshops offering a little theory and a lot of opportunities for creativity and problem-solving. Nationally, only 14 percent of engineers are women.

“You are all here today because you have the potential to become something great in life,” CSULB SWE Chapter President Alexis Ortega told attendees.

Reminding the audience that she’s the first female top executive at CSULB, President Jane Conoley said student and faculty diversity is an important part of the university’s mission. “You could find a home here,” she said. “It’s a great campus.” She echoed Ortega’s advice to “dream big.”

Ortega, a fifth-year aerospace engineering major, said she got through high school and the college application process by reaching out to teachers, counselors, and accessing college resources. Her passion for airplanes also helped her keep moving forward. Once she was accepted by several colleges and received scholarships, anxiety levels declined. “I want you to know this is normal and OK,” she said of the nervous times.

Keynote speaker Nicole Cadreau, a power systems planner at Southern California Edison, said both her parents being engineers helped her learn how things work. Her father, a pool player, used to tell her: “It’s all about the aim.” He also frequently reminded her: “Do what you have to do now so you can do what you want to do later.”

When students are considering a career in engineering, it can be intimidating coming up against male world-famous inventors like Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone; Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Co.; and Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX. But Cadreau reminded the girls that there are many female role models too, such as Mary Walton, who invented pollution-control devices in the 19th century; Gwynne Shotwell, president and COO of SpaceX; and Marissa Meyer, CEO of Yahoo!

When she’s been scrutinized, underutilized, or judged for being a woman, Cadreau said she simply channels that negative energy into positive results in her work. Diverse team members are needed to create superior products, she said. And women are needed for their emotional intelligence, and communication, listening, and multi-tasking skills.

Cadreau said her five keys to success are networking and building relationships, finding a nourishing workplace with growth opportunities, following your passion, nourishing creativity, and being true to yourself. “You have the ability to choose your path and be whatever you want to be,” she said. “Let’s work together to engineer the future of a beautiful world.”