Section Spotlight

Section Spotlight: Pitt SWE Middle School Engineering Day

Lisa Volpatti
Section President
Society of Women Engineers
University of Pittsburgh

This February Pitt SWE held their third annual Middle School Engineering Day.  Over 100 students rotated through activities including making a bouncy ball out of house-hold products, protecting a “pill” from degradation in soda to represent stomach acid, programming a robot to emulate the Curiosity Rover circumventing a crater, building a marble roller coaster, and constructing a table out of newspaper. These activities taught skills in chemical, bio, computer and electrical, mechanical, and civil engineering, respectively.  The students concluded the day by watching demonstrations and listening to a presentation that summarized the day’s events.

Over 70 parents participated in the “Parent Presentation” hosted by the Director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Investing Now Program, Alaine Allen. The presentation focused on encouraging students to become interested in engineering at an early age. Pitt SWE’s current section president Lisa Volpatti and former president Sandy Liu assisted in the presentation to offer their perspective on being collegiate females in engineering. Several parents stayed after the event to thank the presenters for their beneficial advice and many emailed their gratitude in the coming days.

One parent wrote: “My son […] talked about the activities and what he learned for the rest of the weekend.  All of the Pitt students did a great job. Many thanks for hosting this outstanding program!” Another parent commented:  “As a woman in a typically male-dominated field, finance and analysis, I appreciate the trail [Pitt SWE is] helping blaze!” These two comments encompass the goals of this program: to spark an interest in engineering at a young age and to support females in the field.

The students also found the event valuable. 94% of students reported that they learned more about engineering as the day progressed, 94% of 6th and 7th grades students would return next year, and 98% of students would recommend it to a friend. Furthermore, 80% of the students who were not considering a career in engineering before this event are now considering entering the field.  Overall, it was a highly successful event! Thanks to FedEx Ground and the Elliot Group for sponsoring this event to make it such a success!

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Students forming home-made bouncy balls for the chemical engineering activity.

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A student “starting” his robot after programming it to follow the taped line and avoid obstacles similar to the Curiosity Rover.

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Several groups constructing newspaper tables to test how much weight they can withstand for the civil engineering activity.

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Two middle school girls working on their marble roller coaster for the mechanical engineering activity.

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Students enjoying lunch and watch the final presentation to recap the day’s events and lessons.

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